In John 4 Jesus meets up with a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. But for what purpose, exactly? God obviously orchestrated this meeting for a reason, but what? And how would it apply in any age, including ours?
It starts with Jesus asking the woman to give him a drink. It’s noon time, it’s hot and Jesus is tired, but he hasn’t got a bucket to lower into the well to get himself a drink – or any cup to drink from either. This woman then turns up with a bucket, but she’s a Samaritan and Jesus is a Jew and in brackets it says “Jews did not share things in common with Samaritans,” which would include not drinking from a cup owned by the other.
So Jesus doesn’t get his drink of water, but that’s no problem because this meeting wasn’t arranged by God to deal with Jesus’ thirst. Instead, it was arranged to deal with the woman’s thirst, and by extension the thirst we all have as humans in any age we live in.
And Jesus makes that clear in what he says next. He turns the conversation around to her need, not his. If she’d known the gift God had provided in him she’d be asking him for a drink, because he would have given her “living water” that would have satisfied her thirst forever. And that gets her attention: no more traipsing out to the well every day, no more lowering buckets deep into the well, and no more lugging the heavy buckets back home either.
But Jesus goes one step further in getting her attention. He really surprises her in knowing how many husbands she’s had, and her first thought is, “Wow this chap is a prophet.” The conversation, therefore, has now swung totally away from satisfying normal, ordinary, everyday physical needs – like thirst and needing water to drink – to a much higher level, and she immediately takes the bait. If this man is truly a prophet then he can answer some of the deeper concerns she’s got. Now her real thirst begins to show.
To meet this much deeper thirst she’s depended on religion, and what her ancestors believed, but Jesus twice says the real solution to her thirst is “worshiping the Father in spirit and truth.” She has no idea what he’s talking about, but that’s not a problem for her because one day she believes the Messiah will come with all the answers. When Jesus then reveals he is that Messiah she runs back to her village to see if they think he’s the Messiah too, based on him knowing about her five husbands. So they all traipse out to see him, and after hearing Jesus speak for two days, they are convinced he’s the Messiah too.
So from Jesus asking her for a drink it’s now led to this, a whole village believing he’s the Messiah who can satisfy their deepest needs. Which is exactly what the Father sent his Son for, and when people realize that and turn to Jesus in trust that he will provide for their deepest needs, they are now “worshiping the Father in spirit and truth.” It simply means looking to Jesus as the solution to their real thirst. They don’t need religion or religious buildings or sacred mountains, or any of the typical sources of help supplied by the world. All they need is trust in the one the Father sent. And that applies to all us humans in any age we live in.
And we’ve got this conversation between Jesus and the woman because we too start off with no idea this is what the Father sent Jesus for, but God orchestrates circumstances in our lives so we come to realize and believe it, just as he did for her. And it starts off with us, just as it started off with her, in realizing Jesus knows us well, through circumstances very personal to us, which gets our attention – enough for us to want to know him well. And what then follows is a lifetime of experiencing him meeting our deepest needs, and us trusting him more and more, which is just what the Father wanted, so in trusting Jesus we are truly now worshipping the Father in spirit and truth too. The “truth” is Jesus being the provider of all our needs and the solution to our deepest thirst, and “in spirit” means trusting him and not in anything physical or man-made, like religious buildings or religious rituals. That’s the Father’s wish for us, that we trust his Son.