When Jesus sat down on the well curb in Sychar He was a totally exhausted man. His deep fatigue held him virtually motionless (John 4:6). John says that the thirty mile journey from Jerusalem wearied Him but surely He must have been tired before His trek through Samaria began. The months of wrestling with the enthusiastic but unknowing crowds which His signs produced in Judea must have been draining. And His departure for Galilee was occasioned by the malevolent fear His popularity was stirring in the Jewish hierarchy, along with the foreboding news that Herod Antipas had arrested John the Baptist (John 4:1; Mark 4:12). Teaching men on issues critical to eternity is an exhausting business in itself but who among us could fully understand what it is like to be the only one on earth who fully understands the crisis, and to be the only one in heaven or on earth who could do something about it. His disciples were loyal but grievously limited in understanding. There was no human companion with whom to share His burdened thoughts. And so He sat that day beside Jacob’s well, alone and spent.
If past records should be allowed to control it would not be difficult to imagine my own response had I been in the Lord’s place that day as some strange woman approached the well with her vessel, threatening to break my solitude. “Please don’t let this woman be talkative. I’m too tired to utter a word.” How many times on a bus or a plane, in a restaurant or a bank, have all of us wished to be left alone. Fortunately, our Savior was not like that. His fatigue was no less deep than our own has been but His concern for lost men and women was deeper still.
Immediately it would appear, as the woman drew near, Jesus was already planning how He could reach her. He was no doubt thirsty but His quiet request for a drink had a higher purpose. It was calculated to induce an opening in her heart. Weariness changed nothing. He was still the Shepherd in search of lost sheep. His example serves to make disciples like myself feel ashamed of the times that, having struggled to correct some particularly perplexing and sometimes almost intractable human problems we wander off to hide in our self-pity. We are surely often unworthy of Him.
The Samaritan woman was startled by this strange Jew who was willing to receive a drink from the “unclean” hands of a Samaritan. Perhaps she, too, was hoping to be left alone in the midst of her daily chores. What seems fairly clear is that she was not in any passionate search for the kingdom of God. Her life was a mess in most respects. She had been married five times and was now living with the sixth “without benefit of clergy.” And the Lord knew this before He even spoke to her. We are not very much like Him here either. Usually if we learn that an acquaintance is in a marital tangle we spare ourselves the trouble of even talking to them about the “living water.” And if we come on that information in the midst of our efforts to teach we are inclined to close our Bibles and say, “Well, it certainly has been good to talk with you. Maybe we’ll see each other around some time.” It is altogether true that becoming a Christian can make some heavy demands on the sinner. John had to speak some very hard words to Herod (Mark 6:17-18). But what is it that makes us walk away from some individuals rather than teach them? Is it not a failure of faith and commitment within ourselves? The problem is that we do not really believe that the Lord and heaven are worth everything and that no loss could be too great not to be overwhelmed by the gain in Christ. Who are we to decide who will receive and who will not receive the kingdom? Our task is to preach the word expectantly to all and let come who will.
This woman was not a very “bright prospect” and she was looking for water, not for the Christ —but she was caught unawares, and because her heart was good she abandoned her water pot that day in the joy of a wholly unexpected discovery. There are a lot of unlikely people in this world who are certainly not looking for the kingdom but if there was just someone, somewhere who would care enough to approach them in a kind and concerned way they would fling down everything, take up their cross, and follow.
A few years ago while driving to a Tuesday evening Bible study in Kendall Springs, Kentucky, I asked my companion, the aged gospel preacher Henry Ficklin (nearly ninety and stone-deaf), if he felt like going with me to this class. “Brother Earnhart,” he replied with a characteristic twinkle in his eye, “I do a lot of things I don’t feel like doing.” Our Lord did a lot of things He did not “feel like doing” because He loved men so desperately, and He always found renewed strength in the doing of it. “I have meat to eat that ye know not of,” He told His amazed disciples when they returned from the village with food and found their once exhausted Master now animated and alive. We, too, are destined to become occasionally weary with our task, but if we can muster the strength to take just one more step toward the lost we will learn what Isaiah meant when he said of God: “He giveth power to the faint; and to him that hath no might he giveth strength” (40:29).