Behind the Scenes with the Woman at the Well

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“For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.” John 4:8

We all know the story of the woman at the well in Samaria; Jesus approached a woman, asking her for water. A conversation develops, Jesus reveals to her that he is the messiah and soon, she is telling all who will hear, “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?”

Later in the narrative we read (Jn. 4:39), “And from that city many of the Samaritans believed in him because of the word of the woman . . .”

But before this fascinating interaction with the woman at the well took place, something quite mundane is described. The disciples had to go buy food.

Interesting, isn’t it? Elsewhere in the gospels, Jesus solves the food issue with miracles. But not this time. The disciples were sent out . . . to the “grocery store” of the day.

When the disciples were gone (Jn. 4:8), Jesus was alone—and thirsty. Without a group around him, Jesus could connect directly and uniquely with just one person; the woman at the well. Could you imagine the many conversations which might have taken place had Jesus and twelve disciples asked this woman for water?

Seeing thirteen men, would this woman have been so willing to ask Jesus probing questions? Would she have been as honest and transparent?

I’m guessing here, but if the disciples had been on the scene, maybe this story would not be in our Bible today. It’s not that the disciples would have done anything “wrong;” it’s just that the heartfelt interaction we see in this story is not nearly as likely in a group setting.

Yet on this occasion the disciples were elsewhere. Certainly, the disciples were vital to advancing the message Jesus taught. And we will see in the Book of Acts that these same men (absent Judas) learned from Jesus and spread his message like wildfire. Just not at the well.

Our role in this faith is not always to be out front. Sometimes, we go buy the food so another can take the lead.

In the story of the woman at the well, we see that through a one-on-one interaction, many came to believe in the message Jesus brought. This is an amazing and memorable moment, and should be.

But let’s not forget the disciples. The moment would come when they would “turn the world upside down” with the same message. But before this could take place, they had to go buy food. They had to do the mundane. They had to get out of the way.

The disciples only got a sentence in the Bible for their trip to find food. But what they did was important as well. They paved the way for a powerful message that day; a message that would change the course of history not only for the Samaritan woman, but for those in her city and the millions upon millions who learn from this same story even today.

Sometimes, we do the mundane. That’s important, too.

by Kirk Walden, Advancement Specialist