Christ and the Samaritan Woman, known as Photina, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=54768 [retrieved February 5, 2018]. Original source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/feargal/5633736315/.
John 4.39-42 (NIV)
Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers.
They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”
It felt like time had slowed to a crawl.
The fluorescent lights and constant activity disguised the time – for all we knew it could have been noon or midnight. Liam was with our friends two hours away. Sarah’s parents were on a highway somewhere in Iowa. My parents and brothers were on probably on a highway in Kansas. We were hours away from all of them in Little Rock.
Violette had just been born.
I should have been happy, but I felt incredibly lonely and far away. It was probably the most disconnected I have felt in my life. We had so much to celebrate, so much joy to share, but there really wasn’t anyone to share it with. I could hear people in the rooms around us welcoming visitors. When I walked down the hallways balloons and signs hung on all the doors except for ours.
That was the loneliest and furthest away I have ever felt in my life.
There was a knock at our door.
I don’t know that I have ever been so happy to see someone from the presbytery’s staff. I would bet Niann didn’t imagine anyone would be so happy to see her when she stopped by the hospital during her lunch break.
She made us feel less alone … She gave us a connection …
I’m curious if the connection Jesus offered was part of what caused the Samaritan woman to tell everyone about Jesus – he had given her a connection … she wasn’t alone and isolated anymore. Jesus approached her when it seemed no one else would. Sure, she still had questions. But she invited people to “come and see” Jesus, this strange man who had struck up a conversation at the well, for themselves.
It started earlier that day, around noon when the sun was blazing hot.
There were other ways to get to Galilee, but Jesus was set on going this way, the way no other Israelite in their right mind would have gone – Jesus had to go through Samaria.
Narrator: 5 So [Jesus] came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.
7 … a Samaritan woman came to draw water …
Jesus: (Speaking to the woman, not forcefully–politely asking a question) “Will you give me a drink?”
Narrator: 8 His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.
Samaritan woman: (Speaking to Jesus) 9 “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?”
Narrator: For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.
This conversation really shouldn’t have happened.
In this interaction, Jesus, does something no one would have expected.
In Israel during Jesus’ day, a man wouldn’t initiate conversation with a woman in public. Normally, a man would have moved away from the well when he saw a woman approach.
Jesus stayed where he was.
He even started a conversation.
Do you know what was even more surprising?
The woman was a Samaritan.
We tend to think of Samaritans as kind and helpful people (mostly because of Jesus’ parable about the “Good Samaritan). In Jesus’ day, “Good Samaritan” would have sounded like an oxymoron. Jews and Samaritans couldn’t stand each other – they went out of their way to avoid each other.
After King Solomon’s rule (he was King David’s son), Israel split into two kingdoms; the Northern Kingdom, Israel, and the Southern Kingdom, Judah. The Northern Kingdom was conquered first. When it fell, many of its people were taken off into exile while people from a different conquered nation were exiled in Israel. Samaria developed from marriages between these two groups and the mixing these different cultures.
Jews would have thought Samaritans were unclean, second class citizens.
Uncleanness could be passed from person to person – that’s why Jews would make such great efforts to avoid Samaritans. It would have been shocking for Jesus to ask to drink Samaritan water from a Samaritan’s bucket.
No wonder she seems totally caught off guard.
Jesus: (Speaking to the woman) 10 “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.”
Samaritan woman: (Speaking in a sassy tone to Jesus) 11 “Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 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: (Speaking to the woman) 13 “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 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.”
Samaritan woman: (Speaking to Jesus, still kind of sassy) 15 “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Jesus: (Speaking to the woman) 16 “Go, call your husband and come back.”
Samaritan woman: (Speaking to Jesus, more timidly) 17 “I have no husband.”
Jesus: (Speaking to the woman)… “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 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.”
Somehow Jesus knows about her personal life.
The most common interpretation of Jesus’ statement about the woman’s husbands, understands this as a conviction of her sin – a comment on her scandalous lifestyle. There are a lot of people who think that she is an outcast because she was involved in some shady stuff.
There is an alternative theory I find more interesting and helpful.
Did you notice that Jesus does not condemn her in this conversation? Jesus doesn’t tell her she is forgiven and should “go away and sin no more.”
There were legitimate ways a woman in those days could have had five husbands, and she may not have control over any of them. There was the tradition, of Leverite marriage, if a woman was widowed before she could have a child, it was a brother’s responsibility to marry his brother’s widow, so she would not wind up homeless and poor – maybe something like that happened to her.
Or maybe she had been divorced – the traditions around divorce in those days favored the husband. A women couldn’t initiate a divorce – maybe she had husbands who divorced her and left her alone and vulnerable? Maybe they divorced her because she couldn’t have a child? Could you imagine that pain on top of the pain of being an outcast and disconnected from her community?
What if the woman’s story is less about scandal more about pain and heartbreak?
Whichever theory we find most compelling and commit ourselves to, Jesus knows about this person’s life and it doesn’t scare him away. Jesus knows about the parts of her life that hurt, maybe even the parts she was embarrassed by.
Jesus knows what is going on and he still approaches her.
Samaritan woman: (Speaking to Jesus) 19 “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
Jesus:(Speaking to the woman) 21 “Woman, believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 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. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
Samaritan woman:(Speaking to Jesus) 25 “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
Jesus:(Speaking to the woman) 26 “I, the one speaking to you—I am.”
This is my favorite part of the story.
The Samaritan woman starts to think Jesus must be a prophet, some sort of spokesperson for God to know so much about her life.
She asks the question that would be on everyone’s mind when a Jew and a Samaritan were in the same place. She asks Jesus the big question and cuts right to the root of the hatred between Jews and Samaritans.
They couldn’t agree on the right place to worship. Samaritans believed the true center of worship was their shrine on Mt. Gerizim, while the Jews believed the place to worship was the Temple in Jerusalem. They were jerks about it too.
Kenneth Bailey wrote,
“[In 128 BCE] the Jews destroyed the Samaritan temple on Mt. Gerizim. The Samaritans responded by penetrating the temple area of Jerusalem a few years before the birth of Jesus and scattering bones of the dead across the area on the eve of the Passover in order to defile the complex and make it impossible for the Jews to keep the feast” (Jesus Through Middle-eastern Eyes. pg. 203).
To make it worse, the empires that occupied Samaria and Judea manipulated the hostility between the Samaritans and Jews for their own benefit – as long as they were focused on hating each other, they were too distracted to rebel against the nation that oppressed them.
Jesus’ answer to this big question would have been surprising.
The answer Jesus, as a rabbi should have been, “Are you kidding me? The temple in Jerusalem, of course!”
But, that’s not what he said.
Jesus didn’t just repeat party line.
Jesus told the Samaritan woman soon the mountain and the temple wouldn’t matter. God won’t be confined to a geographic place or culture. Jesus Christ will be the center of worship. Through Christ, God answers this divisive question once and for all, through Christ all people in all places can worship the one, true God.
The woman started to wonder if Jesus couldn’t be more than a prophet, maybe he was the Messiah, the one her community hoped would come to save her people and make the world right. Jesus pushed further. Jesus answered the exact same way, God answered Moses when Moses stood at the burning bush and asked God’s name.
Jesus answered “I am.”
Narrator: 27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?” 28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people,
Samaritan woman: 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?”
Narrator: 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him 31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”
Jesus: “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”
Narrator: 33 Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”
Jesus: 34 “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37 Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”
Narrator: 39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony …
Samaritan woman: “He told me everything I ever did.”
Narrator: 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers.
42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”
This is story full of good news.
Distance … pain … loneliness … whatever it is that creates distance between you and God and between from the people around you … nothing can separate you from the love of God … Jesus moves across boundaries to pursue a friendship with you … and he is offering you living water … abundant life … life in relationship with God that nothing in life or death can stop.
This good news also brings us a challenge – we never know how people exactly what is going on inside the people we see around us … we just don’t know what they are going through … what they are facing … Jesus gives us good news to live and deliver … come and see … come and see the one who will overcome boundaries and bridge distances … to bring God’s love … come and see … come and see.