This conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well is full of symbolism which us modern readers miss. So, a few items to remember before we read the passage.
Jews considered Samaritans to participate in idolatrous worship since they worship foreign gods in addition to God. Prophets in both the Old and New Testaments depict false worship in sexualized terms using marital imagery. The text does not say the woman is a prostitute; it says she had husbands, not customers. We have no idea if the husbands died, if she was divorced, if Levirate marriage was involved. The text does not say.
As so, this story is full of imagery. Are they actual husbands, or is Jesus acknowledging she worships many gods, many idols like all the other Samaritans do? If so, the issue here isn’t polygomy or sexual sin, but instead polytheism. Jesus is challenging her faith, not her morality. Sandra Schnieders says the five husbands are the five foreign Gods; the sixth represents the incomplete worship of the God of Israel. This makes Jesus number seven, the number of fullness and completion.
That is a whole different conversation. Jesus and the Samaritan woman talk about the baggage of their ancestors, She is thirsty because she’s tried every other god available and found them wanting – she’s worshipped 6 other gods and is in the same place emotionally, physically, socially, spiritually because she keeps returning to the same well.
How often do we look for fulfillment from other gods? Or worship our God incompletely?
We carry our baggage, full of the clothes of our ancestors. We carry our water jars in search of living water but return home only to need to refill the jar again when the water we do find runs out.
Jesus offers us the kind of water which never runs dry, which fills our jars with the kind of grace which sustains our lives. Jesus sees us. He sees our plight of need, not immorality. He recognizes us, speaks with us, offered us something of incomparable worth. He sees us — we exist for him, has worth, value, and significance.
John invites us to imagine that anyone — even someone as unlikely as this nameless Samaritan woman … or unlikely as us! — is seen by Jesus, loved by Jesus, and has the capacity to bear witness to the one who comes to enlighten our lives and world and to give us living water to satisfy even our deepest thirst.