The Samaritan woman has made the familiar journey to this well countless times before. She's made the journey so many times she could walk there in her sleep.
And here, on this particular morning, her reason for making the journey is the same as it has always been. She's come to this familiar place because of her familiar need: water.
This woman's need is a real need, just as it was for so many. Just as it is for so many.
And it is here, in this familiar spot at the well, that she's struck by something quite unfamiliar. When she arrives, she's taken aback to find sitting there a Man who she does not recognize, but who, quite mysteriously, seems to know her all too well. And it is somewhere in the midst of their conversation that she comes to understand him as “the solution” for her need.
“If you knew the gift of God," He tells her, "and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” He is, she realizes, the one who can help satisfy her thirst in a real, permanent way.
"Sir, give me this water," she says in haste, "so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” But what she doesn’t quite get in their interaction is that there is a qualitative difference between what she thinks this Jewish man offers her and what he actually offers. And, in this way, this woman is a lot like you and I.
“Give me this living water,” she tells Jesus, not knowing the meaning of her words, even as they pour out of her mouth. And Jesus knows this. The look he gives her in response must be one of deepest sympathy. “Oh, child,” He must think. “If only You would let me.”
“Give me,” she says to Jesus, with her thoughts still on her thirst, with her need for water motivating her words. And even before she finishes her sentence, the Samaritan woman has already projected her own interests onto Jesus, with complete disregard for what Jesus is actually interested in offering her.
As for her, so, too, for all of us.
“Give me,” we say to Jesus in our prayers each morning or before bed at night. “If only You would just …” we say while rubbing shampoo into our hair, or while bowing over our cold cereal, eyes closed—all the while ignoring what Jesus actually desires for us.
The woman's need for water is a real need. Jesus understood that. But he knew her needs went beyond water. And we would be fools to think her needs end there.
"The Kingdom of God is what we, all of us, hunger for," Frederick Buechner once wrote (The Clown in the Belfry), "above all other things even when we don’t know its name or realize that it’s what we’re starving to death for."
"My heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee," St. Augustine put the same point, many hundreds of years earlier.
Both men are, of course, speaking of, pointing toward the same thing we find here in this familiar story of the thirsty woman at the well.
“If you knew who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water,” Jesus says to the woman at the well.
A blind hunger for the Kingdom of God. A restless heart. A woman fetching water that will never fully satisfy.
"Go, call your husband and come here," Jesus says to the woman at this point, which is Jesus' way of telling the woman, “I know you need more than water, and I know you know that you need more than water. And what's more, I know you've been filling that need with that which does not satisfy.”
As for her, so it is for all of us.
I Am He
Before their conversation is through, the Samaritan woman tells this mysterious Jewish teacher she can see he is a prophet. Perhaps to prove her religious knowledge, she goes even further and tells him she knows the Messiah will, one day, come to tell her and everyone else all there is to know.
“I who speak to you am he,” Jesus says. And her life, we can assume, was never the same again.
He Understands Me
Following her experience at the well, the woman rushes back to town to tell everyone she knows, everyone who will listen to her about this mysterious man she has just met.
“He told me all that I ever did,” she says, still struggling to catch her breath. Which is to say, “He knew all about me, even though I didn’t tell him.” Jesus understood this woman, just as he understands all of us. He understood her as a “Samaritan,” and he understood her as an “adulterer.” Even in the “Give me” of our prayers, Jesus understands each one of us, too.
Long before we come with lunging arms to grab what we imagine he has to offer, he understands us. He knows our needs. And it is only in our encounter with the Living Person of Jesus Christ that we, too, find our posture changed from one of “Give me” to one of “He understands me.” He can change our “give me” to “Thank you for understanding me.”
It is only in Jesus understanding us that we begin to understand ourselves. And it is only in our understanding ourselves that we begin to realize what Jesus truly offers us—something far better than our “Give me” posture.
What We Need, Not Always What We Seek
What the Samaritan Women came to realize is that Jesus offers much more—not less—than the water she originally sought from the bottom of the all too familiar well.
What she sought is different even from what she understands by his words, “Living water,” because she is still hearing him speak to her out of her own “Give me” posture.
It is only after she sees Jesus as the one who knows her that she begins to see Jesus as someone who has something to say—not just to her, but to everyone. And it’s not long before she’s off in a flash, running to tell others—running to tell anyone who will listen.
The Savior of the World
“We know this is the Savior of the world,” the townspeople who hear the woman’s story say to one another, which is to say, “We know this is the One who understands each one of us.”
The woman at the well came that day seeking water, but she sought much more than just water. She was starving to death, even as she did her best to satisfy her thirst.
"If only you knew," Jesus says. If only you knew from whom you requested a drink, you would ask, and you would be satisfied. And in your satisfaction, you would tell the world.
Come, Lord Jesus, and change our posture from, “give me” to, “He understands me.”
Ryan Pemberton is a board member of Jesus’ Economy, a non-profit dedicated to creating jobs and churches in the developing world. Jesus' Economy provides an online fair trade shop and is working to Renew Bihar, India. Ryan is a graduate of Oxford, Duke Divinity School, and is the past President of the Oxford University C.S. Lewis Society. A communications consultant, Ryan has authored two books, including the forthcoming memoir, Called: My Journey to C.S. Lewis's House and Back Again.
by John Barry
In Jesus, God came as a poor man, lived as a poor man, and died as a poor man. He is good news to the poor. And as such, Jesus cared deeply about the impoverished.
Being What We Believe
What we do with our beliefs is as important to Jesus as what we believe. Jesus is about complete commitment to loving him and others. Jesus loves belief-filled actions, as his saying to a wealthy young man shows: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21; see 19:16–30 ESV). The man walks away sorrowful. Jesus then says his famous:
“Truly I say to you that with difficulty a rich person will enter into the kingdom of heaven! And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich person into the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:23–24).
Jesus’ disciples then ask, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looks at them and says: “With human beings this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:25–26). Jesus is not suggesting it is impossible for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven, or be saved—He is saying it is only possible with God. And for God to enter a person’s life they must be open to Him entering.
Many of us are just like the rich young man. Out of one side of our mouth we speak allegiance to Jesus, but out of the other side we’re speaking allegiance to the trappings of wealth. I know, because the rich young man asks the same questions I would ask. Look at the events that prompted Jesus to make his statement about the wealthy:
“And behold, someone [the rich young man] came up to him and said, ‘Teacher, what good thing must I do so that I will have eternal life?’ And he said to him, ‘Why are you asking me about what is good? There is one who is good. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments!’ He said to him, ‘Which ones?’ And Jesus said, ‘Do not commit murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and your mother, and love your neighbor as yourself.’ The young man said to him, ‘All these I have observed. What do I still lack?’” (Matthew 19:16–21).
Jesus is clearly frustrated and perhaps even offended: “Why are you asking me about what is good?” The man is asking the wrong question. He doesn’t ask how he can follow Jesus, or what it means to be a disciple—or what good thing he can do for the world on behalf of a good God. He asks, “What must I do so that I will have eternal life?” If we’re honest with ourselves, isn’t that the question many of us are asking God today? Jesus is unsatisfied with that question.
Eternal life (salvation) is God’s great gift, but it’s meant to be a gift that prompts action. It is meant to give us purpose.
When I was confronted with the reality of the story of the rich young man, I again asked another question that he asks: “Which [commandments]?” Jesus cites to the man all the relational Ten Commandments, and in doing so, basically implies, “All of them.” The man tells Jesus he has observed these and then asks, “What do I lack?” It is this question that gets to the root of the issue. Jesus tells the man that he lacks self-sacrifice for others—he lacks giving to the extent that it is painful to him. He lacks an ability to put aside his wealth for the sake of the gospel. Wealth is meant to bless others—plain and simple (see Genesis 12:1–3 for an example). It is not for hording, and it will—if not given up, when God prompts you—keep you from fully experiencing the blessings of God.
But do not fear, fret, or worry—instead, pray. Remember: “With human beings this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
What Jesus Would Say to Us Today
Put simply, when we apply Jesus’ sayings today, they look like withdrawing from any relationship, occupation, event, or thing that stands between you and following Jesus—permitted that you can do so while still honoring the commandments Jesus tells the rich young man to keep: “Do not commit murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and your mother, and love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19:18–19).
Jesus has called us to join him in His work—to believe in it with all we have. The cost may be hard to bear or understand at times, but when it’s put in the perspective of all that Christ has done for us—dying for our sins—it seems like very little.
Jesus’ Currency and “Owning” the Problems of Poverty
The currency of Jesus’ kingdom is different than ours. Jesus’ economy is based on self-sacrifice and His currency love. For Jesus, belief and actions are one and the same—you cannot have one without the other.
The more I reflect on the problem of poverty—and what Jesus had to say about it—the more I realize that we own the problems of the impoverished as much as they do. Our inactions have created many of them. We—all of us—are at fault for the state of our world. But we can also join Jesus in changing the state of our world.
If Jesus believed that belief is about action, why don’t we? Why have we not dedicated ourselves to bringing true discipleship and love to others, when it’s what Christ told us to do? What good is belief without it offering true hope?
God has asked us to demonstrate our belief by bringing good news to those who feel hopeless. We are called to drop everything for Him—what is He calling you to drop for Him? This is Jesus’ view of the economy. He envisions what the world could look like and calls us to join God in the process of making that vision a reality. It’s about exchanging the currencies of this world for the currency of love.
An adapted/modified version of this article was originally published by "on faith"/"faith street" as "Five Sayings of the Homeless Jesus."
John D. Barry is the CEO and Founder of Jesus’ Economy, dedicated to creating jobs and churches in the developing world. Because of John’s belief that business can also transform lives, Jesus’ Economy also provides an online fair trade shop. He is currently leading Jesus’ Economy efforts to Renew Bihar, India—one of the most impoverished places in the world where few have heard the name of Jesus.
by Kriselle Dawson
Have you ever thought about world poverty and wondered what you could do about it? After all, you may not personally know any truly impoverished people and you are only one person, and what difference can one person make? I would like to share with you a story about how I came to see a little more clearly the issues of fair wages and improved working conditions, and how I could make a difference.
For most of my five years living in Lae, Papua New Guinea, I employed a Papua New Guinean national lady to work one or two days each week to clean my house—the local term for maid is haus meri. I can't say it was an arrangement I was entirely comfortable with, but it seemed to be the expected thing—and I liked providing some local employment—so I went along with it.
It wasn't until watching the controversial film The Help one evening with friends that I began to think more about my relationship with my haus meri and others in similar situations. It was the scene where Hilly Holbrook declined Yule May's request for a loan of $75—the difference between sending one or both of her twin sons to college. Hilly's statement floored me: “A true Christian don't give in charity to those who is well and able. Say, it's kinder to let them learn to work things out themselves.”
It reminded me of an exchange I had had with my haus meri a few weeks prior. She came to me one day and informed me that her daughter was involved in a special children’s program at church and all parents were to prepare a chicken stew. She said that she did not have enough money to buy a chicken (about $10) that week and could I? I am embarrassed to say that instead of cheerfully obliging her simple request I instead waxed eloquent about how disgusted I was that the church leaders would expect the impoverished members to provide such an expensive dish and how risky it was to serve chicken dishes given that they would not be stored appropriately and would likely sit for hours before being eaten—the average Lae day is 86 degrees Fahrenheit and no refrigerators are available at the churches. Anyway, my haus meri didn't say anything more about the chicken and neither did I.
In hindsight, after observing Hilly and Yule May's interchange I felt ashamed of my inappropriate response to my haus meri’s simple and inexpensive (for me) request. I tried ever after to be more perceptive and more Christian in my relationship with my haus meri after that, whether she needed paint or glue for her child’s school project or help with school fees when her husband was out of work.
You might be wondering how all of this relates to you, and I will now explain the link.
The Bible says, “the laborer is worthy of his wages” (Luke 10:7b). It also says, “If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs” (Deuteronomy 15:7–8 NIV).
It is easy to see how the employer of a poor person can make a significant impact on at least that one person, but how does that relate to those of us residing in a developed, Western country without any poor folk in our employment?
We are the end-consumers of a host of products manufactured in developing countries. It is so easy to purchase our goods at fabulously inexpensive prices from the mega chain stores without any thought for the workers, their rate of pay or their working conditions. Our habit of spending as little as possible on any given item affects more than just our hip pocket—it drives down wages and the working conditions of those who already are impoverished. The people who produce the goods that you and I consume deserve to be paid a fair wage that will meet their needs and their family’s needs. The impoverished need not suffer unnecessarily because you and I want to extend our dollar a little further to buy yet more luxury and possibly superfluous items.
You may be wondering, “But what can I do about it? I am only one person amongst millions of consumers?” And, of course, you are right, but little by little you and I can make a difference by purchasing fair trade and ethically produced goods, and by raising awareness in our social networks and community.
Kriselle Dawson is a volunteer writer for Jesus' Economy. Kriselle lives in Lae, Papua New Guinea, where she is a full-time mom and homeschool teacher; she also serves with Papua New Guinea Union Mission and Lae City Mission.
by Sarah Reeves
Some people are blessed with a family that is supportive emotionally, financially, and even spiritually. For others, this has never been their reality. But I still believe there is a God out there who is taking action.
I met a woman in Haiti last spring who gave up her career in the United States to return to Haiti and start an orphanage, welcoming children as they wandered out of Port-au-Prince—where, on top of deep poverty and corruption, the earthquake crumbled thousands of families and homes. She wakes each day without knowing how she will feed 30 kids, but God consistently provides for them by sending his people with food, resources, and community.
I met a family the following summer in a suburb of Seattle who constantly open their home to men and women of the church, insisting that it isn’t really their home at all, but that their home is one home belonging to the family of God.
At one point, I met a young woman with a devastating childhood—already with young children of her own—who had been “adopted” by a family from her church, so they might support her legally.
God preserves his people as a faithful and sovereign father, using the weakest among us—the orphans and abandoned—to make his name great. One such servant is Esther.
A Woman Who Believed Despite Persecution
During the reign of King Ahasuerus, better known as the great and powerful Xerxes, the kingdom of Persia entered a prosperous season, with control over provinces expanding “from India to Ethiopia” (Esther 1:1). During this season, Esther, an orphan among the Jewish people, was being raised and cared for by her cousin, Mordecai. King Xerxes, wrapped up in his own glory, dismissed his wife to find someone he deemed a more appropriate queen. It was at this point that Esther gained favor in the sight of king, and he made her his queen—throwing her a grand feast and blessing his provinces because of the joy she brought him.
But Esther, raised in the generous care of her cousin, remembered her identity—not as queen of a powerful empire, but as a humble daughter under the providence of God. Mordecai continued to look after his adopted daughter—checking in on her every day while she was living in the king’s palace. When he overheard a plot to overthrow the king, he told Esther, and she reported this to the king, giving Mordecai credit.
Later, when Mordecai refused to bow to Haman, a Persian official, Esther joined Mordecai to protect her people against Haman’s genocidal wrath. She hesitated at first—afraid of the king’s power and aware of her own fragility despite her position as queen—but Mordecai urged her to intervene on behalf of her family. Remembering her inheritance, she told her cousin:
“Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I… will always fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:15–16).
Esther went to the king on behalf of her people, and he listened to her plea and granted the Jewish people defense against the orders of Haman’s genocide. Esther very well could have claimed the glory as savior of the Jewish race for herself—but instead, she rememberd her family.
“On that day King Ahasuerus gave to Queen Esther the house of Haman, the enemy of the Jews. And Mordecai came before the king, for Esther had told what he was to her. And the king took off his signet ring and gave it to Mordecai. And Esther set Mordecai over the house of Haman” (Esther 8:1–2).
The bond between these two children of God redeems the tragedy of loss and transcends social definitions of family.
Claiming Our Inheritance as Children of God
You might be a witness to abandonment or have experienced first-hand the pain of a broken family. But Jesus, before he ascended to heaven, comforted his disciples, saying, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). And for the early church, these words gave them power to transcend all social norms to show others love.
Luke tells us that members of the early church, much like a family, “had all things in common” (Acts 4:32). Likewise, the apostle Paul writes to both Jews and non-Jewish people about their “adoption as sons through Jesus Christ,” and that “in him we have obtained an inheritance” (Ephesians 1:5, 10). What might it look like if we were to take hold of this incredible inheritance, step into our identity as God’s sons and daughters, and love each other like blood relatives would, united by Christ?
Globally, there are countless orphans and struggling single mothers. And this demands a response from us—the people who seek to emulate God, the “father of the fatherless and protector of widows” (Psalm 68:5). God doesn’t merely call us to care for these hurting sons and daughters, but also uses them to remind us of his sovereignty and provision. We are Jesus’ hands and feet until he returns to bring his kingdom to completion.
What does family look like in light of Jesus’ example? Or in light of God’s provision for Esther and the Jewish people?
God has given us the opportunity to participate in a grand story, like Mordecai’s “written in the Chronicles of kings,” united in the inheritance made possible by Christ Jesus.
Sarah Reeves writes for Jesus’ Economy, a non-profit dedicated to creating jobs and churches in the developing world. Jesus' Economy provides an online fair trade shop and is working to Renew Bihar, India.