The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He lets me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul.
He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me.
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anointed my head with oil. My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
And I shall dwell the house of the Lord forever (Psalm 23:1-6).
– David, Third King of the United Kingdom of Israel (1040 BCE – 970 BCE)
Jesus’s most important Gospel encounter is the tale of His meeting with the woman at the well. It comes as His ministry begins, and it gives us everything that we need to know about Jesus and His mission on earth, if only we can fully understand what we are reading. Jesus is speaking not to a crowd of Jews in a synagogue or on a hill, as later on He often will do. And nor is He sparring with Temple leaders or with clergymen, as He will be doing later. In fact, in this early and very rare case, Jesus is not speaking with men at all. No, Jesus’s earliest and longest Gospel discourse is a private conversation that He initiates with a least member of a despised ethnic minority. And she is, oh my goodness, just a woman to boot! What follows is most of the fourth chapter of the Biblical Gospel of John:
So then, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that He was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing; rather, His disciples were), 3 He left Judea and went away again to Galilee. 4 And He had to pass through Samaria. 5 So He came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the parcel of land that Jacob gave to his son Joseph; 6 and Jacob’s well was there. So Jesus, tired from His journey, was just sitting by the well. It was about noon. 7 A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” 8 For His disciples had gone away to the city to buy food. 9 So the Samaritan woman said to Him, “How is it that You, though You are a Jew, are asking me for a drink, though I am a Samaritan woman?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus replied to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who is saying to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” 11 She said to Him, “Sir, You have no bucket and the well is deep; where then do You get this living water? 12 You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well and drank of it himself, and his sons and his cattle?” 13 Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again; 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never be thirsty; but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternal life.”15 The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water so that I will not be thirsty, nor come all the way here to draw water.” 16 He said to her, “Go, call your husband and come here.” 17 The woman answered and said to Him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this which you have said is true.” 19 The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and yet you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one must worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Believe Me, woman, that a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, because salvation is from the Jews. 23 But a time is coming, and even now has arrived, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am He, the One speaking to you.”
27 And at this point His disciples came, and they were amazed that He had been speaking with a woman, yet no one said, “What are You seeking?” or, “Why are You speaking with her?” 28 So the woman left her waterpot and went into the city, and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is He?” 30 They left the city and were coming to Him.
31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging Him, saying, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But He said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples were saying to one another, “No one brought Him anything to eat, did he?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His work. 35 Do you not say, ‘There are still four months, and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I tell you, raise your eyes and observe the fields, that they are ripe for harvest. 36 Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that the one who sows and the one who reaps may rejoice together. 37 For in this case the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have come into their labor.”
39 Now from that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all the things that I have done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to Jesus, they were asking Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. 41 Many more believed because of His Word; 42 and they were saying to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One truly is the Savior of the world.”
43 And after the two days, He departed from there for Galilee. 44 For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country. 45 So when He came to Galilee, the Galileans received Him, only because they had seen all the things that He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they themselves also went to the feast. (JN 4:1-45).
For those of us now free from the Roman Emperor Constantine’s fear-based Christian dogmas, there is so much richness in this wonderful story! My affection for this tale from the Gospel of John is first rooted in my childhood, when at the age of eight I had an experience of light, and a voice from out of that light assured me that God is real and God will never leave me. After that night, I spent the rest of my childhood attending grownup church and communing with a beautiful stained-glass depiction of Jesus talking with the woman at the well as I listened to Reverend Turrell’s love-filled sermons.
And then came the moment, almost forty years later, when I realized that all my afterlife research and Bible-reading had clashed head-on, and I closed my Bible for the next two years. I could no longer be a Christian, because nothing about the religion was supported by the afterlife evidence. I knew by then that the afterlife is real. But I could not bear to give up on Jesus! So one rainy day, very gingerly, I sat down and read just the four Biblical Gospels. And in reading just the Gospels, I could find no place where the words of Jesus were inconsistent with what I knew to be true about the afterlife.
Then I came to the Fourth Chapter of John. You really can read all four Biblical Gospels in one long sitting! Jesus was speaking with the woman at the well, and I was starting to relax. Christianity’s dogmas about sin and hell and the sacrificial redemption of humankind by Jesus and all the other religious nonsense that Constantine crammed into his Roman Christianity at First Nicaea in the year 325 CE do not jibe at all with the afterlife evidence! But at least Jesus’s Gospel teachings can live with the afterlife evidence just fine. So then Jesus said to the woman at the well, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who is saying to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water” (JN 4:10). And I about fell off my chair! One of the big things about the afterlife is that the water there is alive. It looks like water but it feels like silk, it is dry to the touch and rich in energy, and you can walk into it fully clothed and come out of it dry and energized. And Jesus knew all about the living water in the afterlife. Please read Chapter 4 of John again, with Jesus’s true purpose in coming t0 earth as He described it to us on April 6, 2022, fresh in your mind. And you will realize that what Jesus actually is telling the woman at the well is that He is going to teach her how to get to where the living water actually is. He is going to teach her how to grow and perfect herself spiritually. That is what He has come to earth to do! And once she has done that, she will never be thirsty again because once she is a spiritually elevated being, she can just walk into that living water in the afterlife and be refreshed. Having heard what Jesus told us last April 6th, everything that He says to the woman at the well in Chapter 4 of the Biblical Gospel of John makes complete sense to us now!
This story is a beautiful time capsule message for us from Jesus given at the start of His ministry. It feels like His wink given to us across time for each one of us, from long before what was eventually going to become a very far off-track and sure to eventually dead-end Roman Christian religion. It is as if Jesus is reassuring you and me from before any of the past seventeen hundred years even happens. He is gently saying to us now, “Please don’t worry, My dear ones. Because I have got this for you. All is well!” But what else is He actually saying to us here? What are all the signs and symbols for us in the Gospel of John, Chapter 4? Well, let’s just see:
Jesus’s remark that a prophet has no honor in his own country (at JN 4:44) is something that He knows from a very recent experience. In the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 4:16-24, we see Jesus reading from the scroll of Isaiah on a Sabbath morning in the Synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth just before He begins this journey that is described in the Gospel of John, Chapter 4. The Gospel of Luke says that Jesus was feeling full of the Spirit as He stood up and read,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”
Then Jesus handed back the scroll to the attendant as He said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (LK 4:21). And in the increasingly tense back-and-forth that followed between Jesus and some of His erstwhile neighbors, they became so enraged at His seeming presumptuousness that they tried to throw Him off a nearby cliff.
But Jesus was very clear from the start of His ministry about precisely what His true mission was! There is nothing in what He says to the woman at the well of any fear-based dogmas, judgment by God or a fiery hell, nothing about His future crucifixion or sacrificial redemption, or any reason at all for any of us ever to worry or to feel afraid. In that whole rich and beautiful conversation by the well, none of the dogmas of the Christian religion that the Roman Emperor Constantine invented more than three hundred years later are anywhere to be found.
Before last April I had figured some of this out. But once Jesus then gave us His human backstory last April, and I re-read this tale from the Gospel of John freshly with what Jesus had told us then in mind, I realized to my wonderment that really nothing more ever needs to be said! The whole of Jesus’s true earthly mission before Constantine ever messed with it is beautifully encapsulated in verses 1-45 of the Fourth Chapter of John’s Gospel. Jesus revealed His entire earthly mission to the very least of these right at the start of His ministry when He told it all to that humble Samaritan woman at the well. And someone in my childhood church has just kindly sent me to share with you a photo of that stained-glass window. So now it heads this blog post….
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,
Because the Lord anointed Me
To bring good news to the humble;
He has sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim release to captives
And freedom to prisoners;
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord” (Isaiah 61:1-2).
– Jesus, reading in the Synagogue in Nazareth on the Sabbath (LK 4:18-19)