You probably have an idea in your head about who needs what. We all make assumptions about the sorts of people we see, and what it woudl take to help them. But Jesus might answer the question differently. We should listen.
Jesus’ return trip from the Jerusalem Passover back to Galilee led him, by divine necessity (4:4), through Samaria. Samaritans occupied a middle position between Jews and Gentiles, considering themselves Jews but being viewed by Jews as Gentiles. This middle position required that the early church be a witness not just in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the ends of the earth, but also in Samaria (Acts 1:8; cf. Acts 8). This sequence may also be reflected in the fact that in John Jesus first witnesses to the Jew Nicodemus (ch. 3), then to the Samaritan woman (ch. 4), and then hears of approaching Gentiles (12:20-22). Only if we understand the acrimony and animosity between Jews and Samaritans will we grasp the provocative nature of Jesus making a Samaritan (the “Good” Samaritan) the hero of one of his parables (Lk 10:25-37). Indeed, as John tells his readers, “Jews do not associate with Samaritans” (4:9). This is why the Samaritan woman is surprised when Jesus asks her for a drink, for he must have known that using a drinking vessel handled by a Samaritan would inevitably defile him, since Samaritans were considered “unclean” by Jews. But contemporary Jewish scruples of that sort were of no concern to Jesus (cf. Mk 7:19). –Andraes J. Kostenberger
Where is Samaria today?… I am thinking about Samaria as a metaphor that represents a major political and cultural boundary that stands between the church and a needy people. Jesus has crossed such a boundary and so should we. At the end of the story, he is described as “Savior of the world”—a remarkable title coming from a society that was as ethnically and culturally divided as ours. We must think about those social, economic, and political boundaries that circumscribe the church’s activity, and we must cross them. Witherington perceptively identifies the tendency today among Christians to concentrate on those audiences that will be most receptive to their message. The suggestion is that one should target certain kinds of people to recruit for one’s church, because they can be more easily assimilated into the preexisting mix of one’s congregation for the very good reason that they are so much like the congregation in race, ethnic origins, socioeconomic status, education, and the like. This has led to selective activity that avoids “Samaria,” making Sunday morning one of the most segregated times of our week. We talk about going to Samaria, we study the possibilities, but we rarely get there. John 4 challenges us to take a risk, to examine the margins of our world and cross them. I am impressed that a trip to Samaria meant nothing short of “risk” for Jesus. It meant leaving the usually traveled highway that was well known and comfortable. It meant traveling without the usual companions. And when Jesus went into Samaria as an outsider, risk was joined to cost. As any traveler knows, prices change when the retailer hears your accent. –Gary M. Burge
The ‘living water’ Jesus gives bans thirst forever in the one who drinks it. This thirst is not for natural water, but for God, for eternal life in the presence of God; and the thirst is met not by removing this aching desire but by pouring out the Spirit. Indeed, this water will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life (v. 14) –clearly a reference to the Spirit who alone gives life (6:63). Again there are echoes of Old Testament promises. In the day of God’s salvation, with joy God’s people ‘will draw water from the wells of salvation’ (Is. 12:3). ‘They will neither hunger nor thirst’ (Is. 49:10; cf. Rev. 7:16); the pouring out of God’s Spirit will be like pouring ‘water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground’ (Is. 44:3). The language of inner satisfaction and transformation calls to mind a string of prophecies anticipating new hearts, the exchange of failed formalism in religion for a heart that knows and experiences God, and that hungers to do his will (Je. 31:29–34; Ezk. 36:25–27; Joel 2:28–32; cf. notes on 3:5). It is hard not to think of Isaiah 55:1–3: ‘Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters … that your soul may live.‘ Here God promises to make ‘an everlasting covenant’ with all who come–not only with Israel but with ‘the peoples’, ‘nations that do not know you’ (Is. 55:4, 5). The same passage demands that ‘the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts‘, for then God will have mercy and ‘will freely pardon’ (Is. 55:6, 7)–and indeed it is to the woman’s sin that Jesus is about to turn (4:16ff.). Samaritans who limited the canon to the Pentateuch might not have appreciated such allusions to the prophets (though John’s Jewish readers would), but in the later Samaritan liturgy that has come down to us for the Day of Atonement, it is said of the Taheb (the Samaritan equivalent of the Messiah) that ‘water shall flow from his buckets’. –D. A. Carson