On their way to Galilee, Jesus and his disciples traveled the more direct route through Samaria. Arriving at a well the patriarch Jacob had dug centuries earlier and which was in a field that came to be the legal possession of Joseph, Jesus, tired from the journey, seated himself there while his disciples went into the nearby city of Sychar to buy food. It was about the sixth hour or noon (according to Jewish reckoning). (John 4:4-6, 8)
When a Samaritan woman arrived to draw water from the well, Jesus asked her to give him a drink. Surprised that a Jew would ask a Samaritan for a drink (as Jews did not associate with Samaritans), she said, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” Endeavoring to shift her focus to what he could provide for her, Jesus replied, “If you had known the gift of God and the one who said to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The Samaritan woman, however, did not understand what Jesus meant but continued to focus on literal water, telling him that he had no means for drawing water from the deep well. “Where, then,” she asked, “can you get this living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob who gave us the well and who himself and his sons and his flocks drank from it?” (John 4:7-12)
Drawing a distinction between the water from the well and the “water” he could provide, Jesus said, “Everyone drinking from this water will get thirsty again. The one, however, drinking from the water I shall give him will never thirst, but the water I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” With her mind still fixed on water, the woman did not comprehend Jesus’ words. “Sir, give me this water,” she said, “that I may not thirst and may not have to come here to draw [water].” (John 4:13-15)
If the Scriptural account basically contains the entire conversation, Jesus did not explain how his words related to him and how, through him, all that was essential for eternal life could be obtained. He used another approach to direct her attention beyond her mundane concerns, asking her to call her husband. Acknowledging the correctness of her response about not having a husband, Jesus continued, “You have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband.” His reply made her realize that he was no ordinary man. He was a prophet. This prompted her to bring up a matter that had seemingly lain dormant in her mind. “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain [Gerizim], but you [Jews] say that in Jerusalem is the place where one must worship.” Her implied question was, Which view is correct? (John 4:16-20)
Jesus then revealed that the time was at hand when geographical locations would cease to have any bearing on worship. “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You [Samaritans] worship what you do not know. We [Jews] worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is [here], when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for also such ones the Father seeks to worship him. God [is] spirit, and those worshiping him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:21-24)
With Jesus’ arrival as the promised Messiah, the “hour” or time had come for a change in the arrangement for worship. No longer would worship be associated with a specific location like Mount Gerizim or the temple in Jerusalem. Because the Samaritans were only acquainted with the Pentateuch and did not have the complete revelation about God available in the writings of the Hebrew prophets, they were worshiping one whom they did not fully know. The Jews, on the other hand, were in possession of all the “holy writings.” From among them, the Messiah was promised to come. Therefore, as Jesus said, “Salvation is from the Jews.”
Worship “in spirit” is not dependent on a particular location or any other external factors. Regardless of the time or circumstances, true worshipers are in possession of a worshipful attitude. Worship “in truth” harmonizes with the complete revelation the Father has provided respecting himself. The full disclosure became available through his Son, who is the “truth.” Jesus flawlessly mirrored his Father. Therefore, seeing the Son was just like seeing God. The Father is seeking those whose worship is not governed by externals. He is “spirit” and therefore not to be linked in any way to the realm of the physical. Worship that is acceptable to him must be “in spirit and truth,” reflecting who he is (based on the complete revelation he has provided). Being “in truth,” such worship would also be genuine and not a mere expression of the lips or a ritualistic routine. (Compare 1 John 3:18.)
At this point, the woman acknowledged that she knew Messiah was coming and that he would make everything known. In keeping with her expectation about the Messiah, Jesus identified himself openly to her in a way that he did not among his own people. “I am [the Messiah], the one speaking to you.” (John 4:25, 26)
In the then-existing culture, men did not freely converse with women in the manner that Jesus did. So, when the disciples returned from having purchased food, they wondered why he was speaking with a woman, but no one could bring himself to ask what she wanted or why Jesus was speaking to her. (John 4:27)
Indicating that she planned to return, the woman left her water jar and headed back to the city. As Jesus had revealed that he knew intimate details about her life, she invited men of the city to see the man who had told her “all” that she had done and expressed the thought that he could be the Messiah. Based on her words, the men departed from the city to meet Jesus. (John 4:28-30)
During the intervening time, the disciples asked Jesus to eat. He, though, told them, “I have food to eat of which you have no knowledge.” This perplexed the disciples, causing them to wonder whether someone else had brought him something to eat. Clarifying his statement, Jesus continued, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, ‘Yet [éti, missing in a number of ancient manuscripts] four months it is, and [then] comes the harvest’? Look! I say to you, raise your eyes and behold the fields, that they are white, [ready] for [the] harvest. Already the reaper is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may rejoice together. For in this, the saying is true, ‘One is the sower, and another the reaper.’ I sent you to harvest [that] on which you had not labored. Others labored, and you have entered into their labor,” benefiting from the preparatory work others had performed. (John 4:31-38)
For Jesus, doing his Father’s will brought refreshment comparable to partaking of nourishment. The fields ripe for harvesting denoted the people who would be ready to respond to the message about him that his disciples would proclaim. The Samaritans who were then making their way to see Jesus illustrated the bountiful harvest of people that lay ahead. Those who accepted Jesus as the Son of God would come into possession of eternal life (a life distinguished by an abiding relationship with him and his Father). As “fruit” of the harvest, people would be gathered for eternal life.
The time would come when both those who shared in the preparatory work and those who participated in the harvest could rejoice together. The Hebrew prophets had labored while subjected to abuse and bitter opposition, and their words survived in written form, giving rise to hope respecting the coming of the Messiah. The last of the prophets who had faithfully labored until his arrest and imprisonment was John the Baptist. Even the testimony of the Samaritan woman about her conversation with Jesus served as preparatory sowing. Jesus’ disciples would benefit from all the sowing that had been done in the past, finding joy in gathering “fruit for eternal life.”
Based on what the woman had told them, many Samaritans came to believe in Jesus. Her basic message about him was, “He told me everything I did.” The Samaritans asked Jesus to stay with them, and he accepted their invitation, remaining with them for two days. Based on their personal experience with Jesus, many more came to believe. They then told the woman that their conviction was not based on just what she had said, adding, “We know that he is truly the Savior of the world.” (John 4:39-42)
The faith many Samaritans showed is remarkable. They did not see Jesus perform a single miraculous sign but believed in him because of what they first heard he said to the woman and, later, what they heard from him personally.
Whether Jesus’ disciples remained with him two extra days in Samaria is not specifically stated in the biblical account. At some point during the course of their travel northward, however, they began to head to their own homes.
After the two days in Samaria, Jesus departed for Galilee. Whereas the Samaritans had invited him to stay, he could testify that in his own country (or among his own people) a prophet has no honor. (John 4:43, 44)
Sychar is considered to be ancient Shechem. See http://bibleplaces.com/shechem.htm for pictures of and comments about Sychar and Mount Gerizim.
The words about four months until the harvest may have been a proverbial saying, indicating that from sowing until harvesting was a period of four months. As a proverbial saying, the reference would provide no clue as to time of the year Jesus and his disciples were in Samaria.
In John 4:35, the Greek word héde (already) may either indicate that the fields were already white for harvesting or that the reaper was already receiving wages.