I’ve always wondered, if I were an actress, how I would portray the woman at the well in John 4. What was her back story? What was her attitude toward Jesus? What was her intonation, her body language? How did they impact her communication with Jesus? And what can we learn about communication—especially communication with our spouse from this exchange?
A Hurt Woman
We know some details from the text; some we can only assume. We know she had been married five times and that she was not married to the man with whom she was living. Why had she been married five times? It is improbable that she outlived five husbands! We have no indication that a woman in that culture could initiate a divorce—although a husband could. So, had she been “put out” as many as five times? Ouch! That would leave a scar on a woman’s heart. And, if she had been cast out, why? We also know that she is drawing water from the well in the heat of the day possibly to avoid being shunned by the women of the village who traditionally draw water and socialize in the cool of the evening.
When I hear her saying the words recorded in her conversation with Jesus, I hear a woman who has been hurt. I hear someone who is a bit jaded, skeptical, defensive. Her instinct is to keep this stranger—this Jew—this man from getting too close.
Jesus Engages With Her
Jesus, on the other hand, engages her. He figuratively reaches out to her and keeps reaching out. He doesn’t push, but He is not deterred by someone who is trying to hold Him at arm’s distance.
Jesus initiates the conversation by asking her for a drink of water. She is shocked that a Jewish man would talk to her since she is both a despised Samaritan and a woman—especially a woman with a bad reputation. She doesn’t immediately respond to His request for water, but she is not afraid of Him either.
Her Defenses are Up
Jesus says that if she knew Who she was talking to, she would have asked Him to give her living water. Again, I hear her response as more sassy than curious—maybe even a little taunting: “You don’t even have anything to draw with. How are you going to get this living water? You’re not greater than our father Jacob, are you?” When he tells her that drinking his living water means she’ll never thirst again, I almost hear her responding with a, “Hrrumph. Well, by all means, give it to me so I don’t have to come all this way to draw water in the heat of the day.” Jesus does not let her attitude put Him off. He does not respond in kind.
Jesus is driving the conversation and He takes a turn at this point, but keeps drawing her in as He asks her to get her husband. When she responds that she isn’t married, He reveals that He knows she’s had five husbands and she’s not married to the guy she’s living with. I can only imagine her shock! She must be curious, but cautious. She observes that He must be a prophet, but then speedily changes the topic. Changing the topic and the focus away from herself is a defensive move.
Jesus Answers with Kindness
Jesus remains open, even-toned. He keeps reaching toward her. When she continues down the theological path by saying she knows Messiah is coming, Jesus delivers the clincher: “I am He.” We know that He has won her confidence at this point because she abandons her water pot to run and tell the men of her village.
What can we learn about communication from this passage—especially communication with our spouse? When we feel our mate pushing us away, holding us at arm’s distance, being defensive, speaking to us with an attitude, it may be a result of past hurts. Our response can be like Jesus: Don’t push, but keep reaching out to them. Gently keep the conversation going.