Gospel: John 4:5-26 (Lent 3: Series A)

Reading Time: 3 mins

The woman in our text probably did not expect much from her trip to the well that day, but Jesus did. Jesus planned to meet her.

A smart man. A thirsty woman. A blind beggar. A grieving sister. In last week’s reflection I suggested a four-part series of sermons based on the Gospel readings for the month of March. Each reading features a specific individual who was encountered by Jesus. Each individual was changed. They lived in times and places far from ours, but we share much with them. We are smart. We are thirsty. We are, about many things, blind. We grieve.

The text this week centers around the thirsty woman. She came to the well with a thirst for literal water, but that was not all. Her conversation with Jesus revealed her thirst extended beyond basic physical needs to those which were more existentially profound and eternal.

To help your hearers understand her thirst and how Jesus met it, you will need to spend a little time exploring the world of a first-century Samaritan woman. Any worthwhile commentary will summarize the social-cultural norms involved in the daily task of fetching water, including what it meant for a woman to visit the well in the middle of the day by herself. As you set the scene, you might emphasize how she did not expect to encounter anyone. Jesus’ presence, much less the conversation He instigated, was a surprise.

Like last week’s text, the heart of this reading is the conversation. Also like last week, it was a strange conversation. They seemed to be talking past one another. Jesus instigated it by talking about literal water and physical thirst. But then He moved toward more personal matters by bringing up her complicated marital past. She responded by raising Jewish-Samaritan debates about worship. By the end, they were talking about the coming of the promised Messiah and the identity of Jesus Himself.

It turns out she was neither ignorant of nor uninterested in matters of theological and spiritual significance. The thirsty woman came to the well that day looking for water, but Jesus offered her much more, “living water” (ὕδωρ ζῶν) He called it. He does not spell out the details here, but in this case, it included a gracious mix of forgiveness, community, and restoration. A sermon on this text would do well to deliver the same.

At some point in the sermon it might be good to reflect on the nature of thirst. Those who thirst experience discomfort for lack of something needed. If we could have asked the woman to name what she was thirsting for before she went to the well that day, water would have only been the beginning. Her checkered past and lonely present revealed a thirst for a more hopeful future. Only the living water from Jesus could quench this complex thirst, but probably not in the way she expected.

Only the living water from Jesus could quench this complex thirst, but probably not in the way she expected.

Your hearers also experience thirst. Physical thirst for water is a human constant, but that is only the beginning for us too. If you were to ask your hearers about thirst in their lives, you would get a variety of responses. Some thirst for more meaningful work or more substantial pay. Others thirst for deeper relationships or any relationships at all. Still others thirst for a break from the grind, freedom from the past, or justice in the present.

God does not promise to quench all of these thirsts, not in the way we imagine at least. But He does promise “living water,” and not just to the thirsty woman in our text. Later, in John 7:37-39, Jesus spoke similarly: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.” That time He was speaking about the Spirit. After His suffering and death, the risen and ascended Messiah would send His own Spirit to become a thirst-quenching source of life for all who believe; not only Jews and Samaritans but even us. While many questions remain about the thirsty woman and how her life unfolded after her conversation with Jesus, there is one thing we know for sure. At the end of chapter 4, John tells us many people believed in Jesus because of her testimony. It seems this thirsty woman would not keep this living water to herself.

Neither can we today.

When your hearers arrive for worship on Sunday, you can count on the fact that they will be thirsty. They may not know exactly what they are thirsting for, but you can be certain they lack something they need. They may not explicitly thirst for forgiveness, but they need it as much as you and I. They may not name community as something they need, but all of us need brothers and sisters to love and support us. They may not use the word “restoration,” but all of us, deep down, thirst for things to be made new and right. Your job as a preacher of the Gospel is to proclaim these promises in the name of the Messiah.

The woman in our text probably did not expect much from her trip to the well that day, but Jesus did. Jesus planned to meet her. Jesus planned to quench her thirst by providing for her forgiveness, community, and restoration. He offers the same to your hearers this week.


Additional Resources:

Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on John 4:5-26.

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching John 4:5-26.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach John 4:5-26.

Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Arthur Just of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through John 4:5-26.