At this point in His ministry, Jesus was gaining attention, and to avoid arousing even more attention and directly clashing with the Pharisees, He moved His work north into Galilee. The shortest route there was through Samaria, the land of the Samaritans. Verse 4 says He needed to go that way. He had a choice of two roads to get to Galilee. One went around Samaria, the other through it. The latter was obviously the shorter route. Most Jews took the longer route to avoid having to deal with the Samaritans. The Greek indicates that Jesus was led to choose the shorter route: He had to go that way.
By the time the group reached Jacob's well, Jesus was exhausted. Most of the modern versions fail to give the force of His tiredness because it takes a great number of English words to parallel it. They may say He sat down, "just as He was." It indicates He wearily flopped down, as if it was more than just being tired from traveling. We can easily think of Jesus as the all-conquering and mighty Messiah who swept aside every obstacle in His path as if they did not exist. John, however, shows us a Jesus who had to struggle against His humanity.
It is good for us to remember that the Word became flesh (John 1:14). Hebrews 4:15 says He was tested in all things as we are. Yet, even when He was bone weary, He did not allow his weariness to justify sin or failure to carry out His God-assigned obligations in serving and setting an example for mankind. Experiencing the kinds of obstacles we must overcome fully prepared Him to function as our High Priest. When Jesus speaks, we need to be confident that He has every right to speak, not merely because He is God but also because He has experienced the limitations and weaknesses of humanity. Jesus' manhood was not something that was merely apparent but a real participation in humanity's frailties. His work was just as fatiguing to Him as it would be to us.
This story of the woman at the well begins with a bone-weary, physically worn out Jesus. The disciples leave Him to go into the city to buy some food. When they return, they find Him in an entirely different state: His hunger is gone, His exhaustion ended, and He is full of fresh vigor, ready to go on doing His work.
Their first thought is that someone else had supplied Him with food and reinvigorated Him, but this is not the case at all. Jesus' reply is that something entirely different reenergized Him. Commentators commonly conclude that Jesus said doing God's work stimulated him. It is true that involvement in work produces further stimulation. From our own experience, we know that a job we dread doing seems to erect a barrier that keeps us from even starting, leading to procrastination. Finally, we drag ourselves into beginning, but once we get going, the work produces its own energy in us, our attitude changes, and we really get into the job.
Yet, that is not quite what Christ said. McClaren's Commentary on this verse makes an interesting observation, one worth mentioning because it more accurately reflects what He said:
Notice that the language of the original is so constructed as to give prominence to the idea that the aim of the Christ's life was the doing of the Father's will; and that it is the aim rather than the actual performance and realization of the aim which is pointed at by our Lord.
His words, then, are better rendered, "My food is that I may do the will of Him that sent Me and finish His work." His reinvigoration derived from making the accomplishment of the Father's will His every impelling motive. In this case, it was not the actual doing of the work but the motive for doing it that was so energizing and stimulating.
The Revised English Bible translates this verse as, "But Jesus said, 'For Me it is meat and drink to do the will of Him who sent me until I have finished His work.'" "Until" properly indicates He was being sustained and energized from the motivation to see the work done. The apostle Paul expresses a similar motivation in I Corinthians 9:16, "For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!" These men felt driven to do the work God had appointed for them.
If our lives are going to be at all worthy, it will be because of two factors: What we aim for in life and recognizing who we are. The first may be simply described by saying, "You gotta have high hopes," and we can have no higher aim in life than to do the will of the Father. The second can be understood by grasping why psychologists keep trying to persuade parents to work to build their children's self-esteem. They have observed that, if children do not think they are anything or can do anything, are of no value and unloved, or have absolutely no skills, they will not do anything. They will spend their lives cowering in self-pity and spinning their wheels in ineffective, low-level activity.
Anything connected to doing the will of the Father supersedes all other ambitions in life. Jesus Himself says in Matthew 6:33, "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you."