Unlike His nighttime interview with Nicodemus, Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well outside of Sychar was in the broad daylight. The hottest time of day wasn’t the most popular period to draw water, but maybe this was exactly why the woman chose to carry out her errand. Seeking to avoid the stares and snickers of others, the woman ventured out in solitude. That is, until she met Jesus.
3 So He [Jesus] left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.
4 Now He had to go through Samaria. 5 So He came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as He was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. John 4:3-6, NIV
At first glance, the story recorded in John 4 seems normal enough. At this point in the Gospel of John, the reader has come to expect to find Jesus discovering needs and meeting them -- whether a social need or a spiritual one. And yet, Jesus is full of surprises.
Surprise 1 -- Jesus is at the well. It's a surprise to the woman from Sychar expected to run her errand without any bystanders. But it's also a surprise to any Jewish reader. A straight line from Jerusalem to Galilee runs through Samaritan territory, but conscientious Jews willingly took a wide, circuitous route in order to avoid unwelcome encounters with Samaritans. Jesus didn't have to be at the well. To some, He probably shouldn't have been there. But according to John 4:4, Jesus "had" to be there. In tune with His Father's leading, Jesus had to meet this divine appointment.
Surprise 2 -- Jesus initiates conversation. Completely caught off guard, the woman vocalizes her own surprise at this custom-upsetting dynamic (John 4:9). It's surprising on two fronts of ancient near eastern norms: Jews didn't willingly associate with Samaritans, and men didn't typically address woman in public. What is Jesus doing?
His priority is definitely not the maintenance of social custom, but the healing of a broken heart.
Surprise 3 -- Jesus asks for help. Although Jesus' is on a mission of mercy, the first thing out of Jesus' mouth is a request, a plea for help. Wait...what?! The Son of God asking a nameless woman for help satisfying a personal need?! Instead of getting straight to her heart's need Nicodemus found out that Jesus is very capable of doing, the Savior shines attention first on His own need and the possibility that this woman has the capacity of fulfilling it. Jesus didn't expose the woman's need right away. He walked through conversation that became increasingly more open and transparent. Started with external, obvious, non-threatening things and led to internal, hidden, and sensitive realities. And more specifically, Jesus started with a request. He extended trust in her, and eventually the woman extended trust in Him.
Surprise 4 -- The spiritual need wasn't Jesus' primary concern. In conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus addressed the teacher's spiritual, theological concerns right off the bat. Yet, in the case of this solitary Samaritan, Jesus zeroed in on meeting the woman’s emotional need. In all the non-verbals of the situation, the time of day, the way she carried herself, the things she said and didn't said, Jesus discerned in this precious daughter of God a sense of shame, insecurity, poor self-image, scarcity of trust/commitment, etc. all as a result of hurt, brokenness, relational dysfunction. Meeting these emotional needs were foremost on the Messiah's mind. And as we've seen over the last few posts, the Master of Ministry engaged the needs of those around Him from their starting point. For the couple in Cana, it was a social need (John 2). For the teacher of Israel, it was a spiritual need (John 3). And now for this Samaritan woman, it was an emotional need He wanted to satisfy.
MEETING EMOTIONAL NEEDS
No matter how often we say we're "fine" when asked how things are going, we all know there's much beneath the surface that isn't fine. And most of what's not fine is because of emotional hurt. If it's true for us, it's more than likely true for those around us. So how do we go about coming close to people and meeting their emotional needs?
- Be present — Jesus was intentional about being present, being in proximity of this woman to actually journey with her toward healing and wholeness. Remember, Jesus had to go to that well. He needed to go there. And so He did. He re-routed His GPS and went to where the woman was going to be. When you have a sense of someone’s emotional need, demonstrate your willingness to be present.
- Be the first to extend trust — Just as Jesus was the first to spark conversation and even with a practical request, we can do the same. Jesus sought help from her hand because trust begets trust. He was willing to cross barriers to engage her, and He didn’t bother to wait for her to cross those barriers to initiate conversation with Him. We can’t expect those with deep emotional needs to cross the lines of their self-insulated safe zones to ask us for help. We can take the first step. In fact there are times when those who are deeply hurting need have become so consumed with their internal insufficiencies that they've forgotten their own potential to contribute to the well-being of those around them. By asking for their help, we not only extend trust to inspire trust, but we also give them the gift of being reminded of their ability to serve and be of practical use.
- Listen for the story behind one’s behavior/actions — This doesn’t mean that we need to psychoanalyze and pretend to have more psychological expertise than we do. But there’s something to be said about simply loving people enough to pay attention to their behavior and the things that inspire it. We can be sensitive to consider simple questions like: why? what’s the story here? At times we may misjudge or read too much into things, but Jesus models the gentle use of door-openers to give people the chance to share more than maybe they were initially willing to open up about. (For example in John 4:17, "Go call your husband." The woman's response opened up the door for the conversation to go deeper.)
- Offer the satisfaction of a gift that keeps on giving -- When ministering to someone's emotional need, we have the gift of relationship with Jesus to offer. He's the One who satisfies all our soul hunger. It's a relationship that brings wholeness, and that wholeness is not contingent upon any circumstance or person (all those have turned out untrustworthy for the emotionally broken soul). The pleasure of relationship with Jesus makes us emotionally complete, fully satisfied as the psalmist reveals: "You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Ps. 16:11, ESV). We may often feel as though we have little to offer our friends in emotional distress, but the God we know and the relationship He invites us into truly is ever-satisfying wellspring of living water.