The obvious lesson of John 4 and the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well is that the Savior is here for everyone, not just the Jews, or even just for the Mormons. He's here for us all.
This encounter, though, goes much deeper than I at first realized. It is a lesson rich with the symbolism of purification. While engaging in the very acts deemed to make Jews unclean and defiled, Jesus teaches about living water--water that will make you pure.
As is common with the Savior, he builds upon cultural norms of the times to teach greater lessons. To understand, it's important to first take a look at some these norms.
- If a Jew ate food prepared by a Samaritan, it made him unclean.
- It was forbidden for a lone man to talk with a lone woman.
- It was forbidden for a clean man to associate with the unclean.
- Even touching a Samaritan's earthen or leather container for a drink made a Jew unclean.
- Living water was a common term for running water, as those running from a river. This is because running water was more clean and pure.
- Although it was shorter, Jews avoided walking through Samaria when traveling between Jerusalem and the Galilee. Instead they chose the long journey through Jericho. In part this is because they felt the Samaritans were unclean. In part, though, it was a matter of safety. Many Jews were known to be beaten, robbed, and murdered in the county of Samaria.
Knowing all these things, Jesus chose to travel through Samaria. He sent his disciples to buy food from the Samaritans. While alone he spoke with a Samaritan woman whom he knew was not living a moral life.
During their exchange, immediately after he would have been considered defiled by drinking water from her, he talked about receiving living water from him. Water from him that purifies the soul, for to have water and never thirst again, we are gaining eternal life. In order to have eternal life and "live" forever, we must be purified first.
The purification theme continues as she talks about the place of worship, the temple, the place where purification rites took place. When she mentioned that he was a prophet, she referenced the temple that the Samaritans used to have. At the time the Jews rejected the Samaritans help to build the temple (about 500 BC), they built their own temple on Mt. Gerizim. It was destroyed by the Jews somewhere between BC 135 and 108.
The woman is beginning to recognize that Christ is talking about purification, but she is linking it to temple rituals. Christ then tells her that the temple rituals are not what makes her pure; it is him. When she answers that she perceives he is the Christ--the annointed one to bring salvation--He declares, I AM.
Not only is Christ here for every person ever alive, but he is here to purify our souls. Through His atonement, the Holy Ghost can sanctify us and prepare us to live forever with God.