It’s safe to say that most of us take water for granted. We turn on the tap and clean(ish) water comes out. We jump in mud puddles and romp in creeks, unconcerned about what is in the water. We swim in lakes, oceans and pools enjoying how refreshing the experience is. But water can be so much more. For instance, the water of baptism is ordinary and extraordinary at the same time. Jesus recognizes water as a powerful symbol for our lives of faith as he speaks of a “living water” to a Samaritan woman near a well. In this lesson, children will explore the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:5-42. They will consider how our connections and care for one another can act as “living water” for a disconnected and hurting world.
You will need:
- A Bible (preferably a children’s Bible such as Growing in God’s Love: A Story Bible)
- A large bowl of tap water
- Colored chalk, small bowls of water, and light-colored construction paper (optional)
- Tea (hot or iced) or some other beverage the children enjoy, napkins, cups, and simple snacks (optional)
- A computer with Internet access connected to a data projector or television and access to the video “Fetching Water Keeps Girls Out of School in Nigeria” (optional)
Greet the children as they arrive.
Ask the children to sit in a circle on the floor or around a table. Place a large bowl of tap water in the middle of the circle or table.
Ask the children:
- What are all of the things could we do with this water?
- What could we use the water for that would help someone in a small way?
- What could we use the water for that would help someone in a big way?
Exploring the passage
Say a prayer.
Provide context for the lectionary reading (John 4:5-42):
- Note for adult leaders: This passage covers a lot of ground! The context notes below address a number of the details that are included in the full passage in the NRSV translation. If you are using a children’s Bible that abbreviates the story, introduce the children to contextual information that fits with the details included in your version of the story.
- This story comes from the New Testament Gospel of John.
- The story describes Jesus arriving in the Samaritan city of Sychar. Jesus left Galilee (where he preached the Sermon on the Mount, healed and fed people). He was traveling to Jerusalem. He will arrive in Jerusalem the week before his death. Typically, a Jewish person like Jesus would not travel through Samaria. They would have walked along the Jordan River, avoiding Samaria. The Jewish people and the people of Samaria did not get along. Jesus’ arrival in a Samaritan town is intentional. He wants to be among people who people like him would not usually get along with.
- In this story, Jesus will meet and speak to a Samaritan woman at the town water well. Not only is she a Samaritan (someone Jewish people wouldn’t choose to spend time with), but she has also been married multiple times. This means that she would have been considered a very unimportant person. At that time, women didn’t have their own money or property. An adult woman would need to be cared for or supported by a husband or if her husband was no longer alive, by her male children. The fact that this woman has needed to be taken in several times by her children shows how much loss she has experienced and how unimportant she would have been.
Read aloud John 4:5-42. Because this is a long reading that is packed with details, children will likely benefit from a condensed retelling of it. Growing in God’s Love: A Story Bible features a succinct retelling of the story.
After reading, ask:
- Why is Jesus at the well? What does he want?
- Why isn’t Jesus able to get water from the well?
- What is unusual about Jesus and this woman talking to one another? (Encourage the children to think about the background details you shared.)
- Even though Jesus and the woman begin their conversation talking about actual water, Jesus begins talking about a different kind of water — “living water” (or “water that will fill you with life” if you are using Growing in God’s Love: Story Bible). What do you think “living water” might be?
- How does the woman react to Jesus’ story about “living water”?
- How does the woman’s life change after hearing about “living water”?
Relating the passage to our lives
Help the children explore the message of this passage through one or more of these activities.
- Chalk-water art: Gather the materials you’ll need for this activity: colored chalk, small bowls of water, and light-colored construction paper. Ask the children to think of a time they have connected with someone who is very different from them. Have the children share how that experience felt. Hand each child a piece of construction paper. Ask them to draw a picture of that experience using colored chalk. Rather than just drawing on the paper with the chalk, they should dip the piece into water before writing with it. You may want to demonstrate this if you are working with younger children. After they have finished drawing, ask each child to share their art. Notice not only what is happening in the scene but also how adding water to the chalk helps make the image vibrant.
- A tea party: Gather the supplies you’ll need for this activity: tea (hot or iced) or another beverage the kids enjoy, cups, napkins and simple snacks. Ask the children to recount why Jesus stopped by the well where he talked to the Samaritan woman. Jesus was looking for some water to drink after walking for a long time. When we offer each other refreshments (drinks and/or snacks), we show we care about one another. When we eat together, we connect with one another. Have the children take turns serving one another tea (or another beverage) and snacks. Depending on the age of the children in your group, you may want to pre-pour the tea. Encourage everyone to wait until all are served to eat and drink. While the group is eating and drinking, ask the children to learn about one another. You can ask questions or just encourage them to have an organic conversation.
- Water can change the world: Gather the materials you’ll need for this activity: a computer with Internet access connected to a data projector or television, access to the video “Fetching Water Keeps Girls Out of School in Nigeria.” Ask the children to describe how they get water to drink or to bathe. Note how easy it is to get access to clean, drinkable water. Then, ask them to imagine what it would be like if they had to walk a long distance every day to get water. How would their lives change? Show the video. Discuss how Uzzaya’s life would be different if she didn’t have to walk to get water each morning. How would her life improve? What opportunities would she have?
Conclude your time together by praying for all of God’s children to experience Jesus’ “living water,” the spiritual water that fills us with life and God’s never-ending love.