Samaritans were looked down upon in the time of Jesus, thus giving Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan much more impact with his listeners. That a Samaritan could be considered more righteous, more neighbourly, than a teacher of the law was just unthinkable.
The history between Samaria and Israel dates to about 1000 years before Christ. And let me preface my little history lesson here by saying that this story is pieced together from several messages heard over the years, the Scriptures 1 Kings 12-18, some of the minor prophets, such as Nehemiah and Ezra, as well as some fact-checking with the uber-reliable wikipedia. 😉 In other words, there is room for error and I’m happy to be corrected.
Anyway, once King David’s son Solomon died in 930 BC, there was dispute over who should succeed him on the throne. The tribe of Judah (where Jerusalem was located) and the tribe of Benjamin accepted the ruthless Rehoboam, and the remaining ten tribes of Israel chose Jeroboam. Jeroboam wanted to fortify his strategic position, so he created a second temple of worship as an alternative to the temple of Jerusalem because he didn’t want his people leaving the area to worship in enemy territory. The only thing is, he didn’t build a temple to God, he built a temple with two golden calves and said, “Here are your gods, Oh Israel.” (1 Kings 12:27)
The fact that he turned to foreign gods was one thing. But Israel was also conquered by the Assyrians twice over the span of two centuries and the Israeli people mixed together in marriage and in worshipping false gods. The pure race was compromised. Fast forward to Jesus’ time, the Israelites (what was then the people of the tribe of Judah) detested the Samaritans for the fact that they were impure in both blood and worship. They were no better than pagans. In fact, if you can find a map of Palestine in the time of Jesus, you’ll see that Israel is divided, with Galilee on top and Jerusalem on bottom, and Samaria right smack in the middle.
The Israelites would travel regularly from the North (Nazareth, Galilee) to the South (Jerusalem) in the time of holy days and feasts so they could participate in the worship at the temple of Jerusalem. Except, instead of taking the most logical route and cutting straight through Samaria, they would add miles and miles to their journey by going around Samaria, just so they wouldn’t have to mingle with its people. That’s how much they hated the Samaritans.
And now we’ve properly set our story for today. This is in John 4:
Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.
Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.
When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
Jerusalem was located in Judea, and Jesus left there to go back North to Galilee. After reading the history, you might find it strange (as I’m sure his disciples did at the time) that he had to go through Samaria. Already, Jesus was breaking convention by doing this. But then he came to the town of Sychar. The Hebrew meaning of Sychar is “liar” and “drunkard.” This town was not named “Mount Pleasant” or “Gladstone.” And there is good reason to suspect that the people comprising this town fit the bill. Names don’t come out of nowhere, and Jesus chose to stop off in a place that was known for how low its inhabitants had sunk in morals.
And here is is noon – the hottest part of the day. In those times, gathering water was a social thing. Women would go to the well very early in the morning when it was still cool, and then again at the close of day when the afternoon sun had passed. They would fill their buckets and do their washing. And they would talk and connect with other women as they went about these mundane tasks. So . . . why was this woman coming to get water all alone? We’ll see about that in a minute.
When Jesus asks her for a drink, she is stunned. How is it that you are talking to me? I’m a woman! In those days, women had no rights and no status. Men didn’t just talk to women like that, especially not Israeli men. And I’m a Samaritan!
(starting again in vs 10) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
To me, this women shows some spunk. First of all, she challenges him for speaking to her. And now she’s making sure to drive the point home that Samaritans have a blood inheritance too. She’s reminding him that she belongs to Jacob and Joseph just as well as he does.
But Jesus surprises her. He tells her about the water she knows nothing about – one that goes beyond the well that was dug by Jacob himself. This water will spring to eternal life. When she wants to know more, he tells her to get her husband and come back.
(in vs 17) “I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
Now we start to get some idea of why she’s alone at the well. Did you pick up on that? Five husbands and not even married to her current lover. Even in today’s ultra-liberal society, a woman will not be well-looked upon to have been married five times. And now we see the likely reason she is alone. None of the other women in the town will have anything to do with her.
When she confesses to not having a husband, Jesus gets right to the heart of the matter and tells her exactly what she has done with her life. He doesn’t judge her, but he reminds her of where she’s at. And you can see that it makes her uncomfortable. She diverts the topic and starts talking about “religious stuff.” I can see that you are a prophet. She draws the focus away from herself.
And here’s where I see this woman’s spunk again. “You Jews claim that . . . ” She refuses to accept that her people are inferior to the Jews. She brings up the point of dispute about where it’s acceptable to worship, whether it’s in Samaria or in Jerusalem.
And Jesus confounds her again. You don’t worship what you know. You need the Jews because salvation comes from the Jews. But soon – and even as we speak – it won’t matter where you will worship. It only matters where your heart is. God is spirit, and his worshippers must connect with him in spirit, and in truth.
And then – the most beautiful part (picking up again in vs 25)
The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”
I could tell you about how the disciples came back and were shocked to see him talking to a Samaritan woman, and breaking all convention to do so. I could tell you about how she braved the scorn of the town to let everyone know that Jesus was the Messiah by saying, “He told me everything I ever did!” I could tell you about how the entire town believed Jesus because of her testimony. But I will only tell you about this:
Jesus hadn’t officially revealed to anyone he was the Messiah, not even to his own disciples. But in the country of Samaria, considered inferior to the Jews; in the town of Sychar, a place where undesirables congregated – the liars and the drunkards; and amid all the potentially upstanding men of the town, Jesus chose a woman. He chose a sinful woman, who was rejected by her peers, in a town, which was rejected by her country, and in a country rejected by its brethren. It was to this woman that Jesus claimed for the very first time that he was the promised Saviour.
“I, the one speaking to you – I am he.”
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