Our Lord Jesus was in Jerusalem along with His disciples for the Feast of Passover, the first Passover recorded in the Gospel of John. (St. John mentions three Passovers; thus we know Jesus' public ministry was three years long).
While there our Lord talked to Nicodemus about the necessity of being "born again…of water and the Spirit…to enter the kingdom of God" (John 3:3, 5). Being "born again" also means being "born from above" (that is, from heaven/God); the word Jesus uses – Gk., anōthen – means both at the same time
. So Jesus "left Judea and departed again to Galilee. But He needed to go through Samaria" (John 4:3-4). Geographically speaking, Jesus did not need to go through Samaria to get back to Galilee. He could have gone around Samaria. It was necessary for Him to go through Samaria for the purposes of the Gospel, as Jesus told His disciples in another place: "I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent" (Lk. 4:43; Mk. 1:38).
Jesus' following encounter with the Samaritan woman demonstrates God's intended recipients of the saving good news of the Kingdom and effects of that salvation.
One, Jesus, a Jewish man, not only travelled through Samaria, but stopped to interact with Samaritans, which in Jesus' day was culturally forbidden. "For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans" (Jn. 4:9). Since the time of the Assyrian exile of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (ca. 721 B.C.; 4 Kgm. 17), Samaritans especially (and Galileans, too) were considered religiously impure heretics by the Judean, Jerusalem-based Jewish religious establishment. The woman later points out the different respective "mountains" (Jn. 4:20) where Jews and Samaritans worship, namely, Zion or Gerazim – the Jews destroyed the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerazim in 128 B.C.
Two, Jesus actually conversed with a woman, something conventionally not done by a Jewish rabbi of that time. The disciples were surprised at this (Jn. 4:27). Furthermore, as Jesus knew, this woman was of dubious moral reputation having had five previous husbands, but now living with a man unmarried (Jn. 4:18).
Three, Jesus was "weary from the journey" (Jn. 4:6), revealing His complete acceptance of and condescension to our humanity. Jesus clearly intends every human being regardless of nationality, culture, moral reputation, or gender to receive the new birth of salvation into the Kingdom of God. His journey through Samaria reveals the necessity of the divine plan for all persons in the entire world.
While "the disciples had gone away into the city to buy food," (Jn. 4:8), Jesus engaged the woman who had come to Jacob's well near Sychar to draw water for her household. Food, water – these are life's necessities, so Jesus began the conversation: "Give Me a drink" (Jn. 4:7). The woman questioned whether the need for water was greater than the need of Jews and Samaritans to remain separate. Then Jesus led her to consider the greatest need: "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water" (Jn. 4:10).
"The woman said to Him, 'Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water?'" (Jn. 4:11). The woman simply expressed our common way of thinking, that we are bound by various limitations that we must respect: physical boundaries, cultural boundaries, religious boundaries. These boundaries often prevent us from even considering the more essential aspects of life according to God’s design, truths revealed in the Person of Jesus Christ, the Savior (Messiah/Christ), the God-man.
"Jesus answered and said to her, 'Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life'" (Jn. 4:13-14).
We learn later in the Gospel that Jesus was referring to the gift of the Holy Spirit, given after His glorification via the Cross and Resurrection (see Jn. 7:38-39; 12:23ff.). But in order for the woman to receive the gift from Christ for what it is, she still must overcome her material way of thinking.
"The woman said to Him, 'Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw'" (Jn. 4:15). See how she, like us, continued to reduce the gift of the Holy Spirit to something external, bodily, material, something only helpful to satisfy worldly needs. So Jesus displays his supernatural knowledge of her marital situation – He knows all about her. "Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet" (Jn. 4:19), that is, a holy man who speaks for God, so she gave Jesus a religious test about where to worship the true God. Jesus responded: "You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.
God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (Jn. 4:22-24). The woman knows that the coming Christ (Messiah; the Savior) will now all things; when she went into town and reported to the men, she queried, "Could this be the Christ?" (Jn. 4:29). Jesus admitted to her: "I who speak to you am He (the Christ)" (Jn. 4:26).
Jesus simply wants us to know Him, to know God, to know everlasting life in the Holy Spirit. To know God is to worship Him in spirit and truth, regardless of nationality, gender, cultural history, and physical wants.
When the disciples returned from the town, they "urged Him, saying, 'Rabbi, eat.' But He said to them, 'I have food to eat of which you do not know…My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work…lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest'" (Jn. 4:31-32, 34, 35).
Jesus was speaking of the harvest of souls growing to maturity through faith in Christ for eternal life in God’s Kingdom. In another place Jesus taught: "Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'…But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (Matt. 6:31, 33).
Here Jesus explains the kingdom of God and His righteousness to consist of the worship of God in spirit and truth, namely, believing in and following the commandments of Jesus the Christ who gives the Holy Spirit, an inexhaustible fountain of life bubbling up within the believer. This is our chief concern and priority in life. The Samaritan woman at the well came to know these truths, as did the rest of her fellow townspeople who welcomed the Lord for two days. "We ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world" (Jn. 4:42).
By His condescension to our human level of transitory wants, needs, and priorities, the Lord Jesus elevates the purpose of all who wish to know to the level of the divine and eternal. The Lord comes in our flesh to give us His grace, His Spirit, and His peace.