What the heck happened with Jesus and that Samaritan woman? (John 4:1-26)

Jesus heard the Pharisees were throwing shade at him (aka disrespectin’) by claiming that Jesus was baptizing more people than John. Jesus, not liking the lies the Pharisees were telling about him, decided to go back to Galilee to tell the Pharisees to step off.  In going back to Galilee, Jesus and his disciples had to pass through Samaria, an territory with people that Jews were not supposed to fraternize with.  The Jews did not like that the Samaritans at one point intermarried with Assyrians, which I guess would make this sort of like the Jets and Sharks of the ancient Middle East but without the feistiness of Rita Moreno.  Anyway, Jesus came to the town Sychar in Samaria and found a woman alone at the well.

Now, this would have been an unusual sight for many reasons. One, the woman was by herself. Much like our communal bathroom visits, women in those times would make the trip to the well in groups as it was a time of camaraderie and discussion, mostly about Fifty Shades of Grey.  The fact that she was alone could have meant that nobody wanted to be seen at the well with her.  It could also mean that she was just independent and not into conforming to social norms.  It was also in the afternoon and so it was the hottest point in the day, a time when people would not want to be in the hot sun collecting water.  Lastly, she was at a well.  I have seen The Ring and know for a fact that freaky, wet haired dead girls creep out of wells when you aren’t looking then she calls you later to scare you to death.

The disciples continue to the next town to get food but Jesus approached the woman and asked her for a drink.  Probably giving him the same look I give my kids when they ask for cookies for dinner, the woman replied, “Um, you are a Jew, right? I am a Samaritan. You are not supposed to drink from anything I hand you.”

(Musical break.)

By now, if you know anything about Jesus you know his reply was not, “OMD! (acronym for Oh My Dad) You are right- we should not be talking. Guess I’ll be moseying along then.”  Instead, Jesus replied, “This water is okay but if you realized who you are talking to, you would have asked him for an even better kind of water. He would have given you living water.”

I can only guess the amount of skepticism the woman felt. “You didn’t even bring anything to get water from the well. You have no cup, no bucket, nothing.  Jacob built this well. Yeah, that Jacob- the one with the all wrestling and that ladder thingy. Do you think you are better than Jacob?”

“I do know that if you drink from that well, you will be thirsty again.  The water I give will create a spring that will give you everlasting life.”

“That sounds good. I’ll take some of that water so I don’t ever have to come back to this well again.” (Let’s be honest, she probably hated walking to the well with all those catty Samaritan women judging her. I don’t blame her.)

“Go, call your husband and come back.”

Awkward silence. “But I have no husband,” she replied.

“Yes, you are right that you have no ring on it,” Jesus replied. “But you have had five husbands and are now living with a man you are not married to. What you have said is true.”

More awkward silence. “Okay, I get it now. You are one of those prophets I’ve heard about. But let me tell you something. My ancestors worshipped on that mountain. Then the Jews said we could only worship in Jerusalem.”

“A time is coming when God doesn’t care where you worship, He just wants you to follow Him.  People will worship Father in the spirit and the truth. You get it?”

“I know the Messiah is coming,” the woman told Jesus.  “We are kind of waiting for him to tell us what we should be doing.”

Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you-I am he.”  (Sound of bucket dropping into the well because the woman can’t believe she was talking to the Messiah.)

 

When I first heard of this passage, I was in college. Considering I attended college in my early 30’s, it’s a little embarrassing that I went that long without knowing the story.  What caught my attention was the fact that this- a conversation between Jesus and a woman- is the longest conversation Jesus has with anyone in the Bible.  I sometimes picture this story being told in the tabloids, with Harvey Levin from TMZ taking a sip of his overly large soda asking, “Wait- Jesus was talking to a woman for how long? And what did Mary Magdalene think of this?”

The Samaritan woman passage is also noteworthy because Jesus was in a region that other Jews avoided. Most Jews would not travel through Samaria, sometimes adding three days to their journey between Galilee and Judea just to circumnavigate around it.  Jesus walked into “enemy camp” to preach his message.  As Christians are taught to spread the message of kindness not just through word but also in action, the lack of judgment placed on the woman at the well by Jesus helps teach the message that all Christians are to reach out in understanding. He displays no judgment at her Elizabeth Taylor-like love life with men.  He even trusts her to tell the other villagers about him.

The woman at the well left her water bucket to go back to the village, just as male disciples gave up what they were doing to follow Jesus. She brought people to hear Jesus speak. With the definition of a disciple being “one who embraces and spreads the message of another,” she was a true disciple.  (Please feel free to use this if you should encounter a church that may feel women’s only places are in the pews.)

As I was researching this passage more online, I came across a website that explained that one of the lessons of the passage is that God loves us even when we feel morally bankrupt.  And, in parallel with that, we should have compassion on those who have lost their way in life.  If you came across someone you would not normally talk to, would you sit down and have a conversation with them? Would you make them feel valuable in God’s eyes?

For all of us who feel worthy in God’s eyes and see value of God’s love in others, let me just say…Somewhere There’s a Place for Us.

Links for more information about the story:

The Biblical Basis for Women in Church Leadership and Pastoral Ministry

The Samaritan Woman’s Story: An Alternative View

Women of the Bible: The Samaritan Woman

 

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