Jesus and the Samaritan Woman
Monday, April 8
Prepared by Steve Madaris
READ John 4:1-42
Jesus’ encounter with the woman of Samaria raises many questions for us to consider. Some of these questions require an understanding of the culture in Jesus’ day. Women were expected to collect the water needed for the day, but would not go to the well in the middle of the day. That is unless they were social outcasts. The assumption, therefore, has usually been that the Samaritan woman had a bad reputation. This issue is not critical to understanding the passage, however.
It is also noteworthy that the Greek word used in the parenthetical, “Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans” (verse 9), is a reference to the dietary laws and included a prohibition against the two cultures sharing dishes and utensils with the other, let alone food and drink. Since Jesus did not have a bucket, the Samaritan woman’s surprise at Jesus’ request is understandable. Here is a Jewish man not only talking to a woman who was a Samaritan, but asking for her to give Him a drink from her bucket.
On a surface level, this entire interaction is scandalous, flaunting many cultural norms. More critically, however, their conversation (the longest exchange between Jesus and another individual recorded in the gospels) was clearly held on two levels. The woman thought that Jesus was referring to potable water when He talked of “living water.” She understood Jesus’ request for her to “call your husband” to refer to her legal status, which apparently was single. She was focused on temporal things. He was concerned with eternal matters. Throughout their conversation, the woman expresses confusion and Jesus offers clarity.
The same is true of Jesus’ interaction with His disciples in verse 27 and following. At the beginning of the story, we are told that the disciples “had gone to the city to buy food” (verse 3). They return from purchasing food as requested by Jesus, but He doesn’t eat despite their encouragement. The disciples are confused, but Jesus responds to their preoccupation with His physical needs by explaining the satisfaction received by ministering to the spiritual needs of the Samaritans. Even those who came to believe in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony were confused about the source of their conversion. Clarity came in the two days that Jesus and His disciples stayed in the town, sharing life and meals, and hearing the call to salvation for themselves.
This story (as with every story in the Gospel) is ultimately about the movement from confusion to clarity. God revealed Himself to every person or group of people who encountered Jesus and challenged them to change and be transformed. This week, be open to the Spirit moving you from confusion to clarity.
Read this passage in The Voice translation. You can access this through Bible Gateway (www.biblegateway.com) What insights do you gain from this translation that were less explicitly stated in the NRSV? How do these insights change or reinforce your understanding of the story? In particular, compare the translations of verses 21–24 about worshipping “in spirit and truth.”
The poet Robert Frost wrote, “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” The distance between Judea in the south and Galilee in the north is about 120 miles, approximately the same as the distance between Los Angeles and San Diego. In between was Samaria. The Jewish people had created routes designed to intentionally avoid travelling through Samaria. This would be like going through Riverside in order to avoid Orange County to get to San Diego. John writes that Jesus “had” to pass through Sychar (verse 4). Additionally, He was sitting by himself at the well at noon—in the heat of the day—and without a bucket to draw water from the well. The journey’s itinerary appears intentional. Have you every chosen a longer route to your destination on purpose? What prompted that choice? What were the consequences of taking a longer way? Ask God to lead you “in His paths” in order to be available to do His will, even if it is inconvenient or uncomfortable.
“Jacob’s Well” is not mentioned anywhere else in Scripture. Genesis 33:18-20 describes the purchase of the land where the well was dug. (Read these verses.) According to John’s record in these verses, the well was located in Sychar, a city to be avoided because contact with Samaritans would make Jews ritually unclean. Using imaginative reading of John 4, put yourself in the story. With whom do you identify: one of Jesus’ disciples, the Samaritans who lived in the town, or perhaps the Samaritan woman herself? What are the sights, sounds and smells you experience? Where are you observing the interaction from? How did God meet you? Most importantly, what is God saying to you through your imaginative reading of this passage?
Open the link https://tinyurl.com/belairpres-lent2019 and listen to the folk trio Peter, Paul, and Mary’s interpretation of this story. (Note: The album will continue if you do not stop after this track.) How does this song compare to John’s account? In particular, consider the irony of her challenge “And You don’t know everything I’ve ever done!” and her final exclamation “This man must be a prophet!” Jesus neither condemns the Samaritan woman for trying to hide the whole truth nor embarrass her in front of others. Instead He simply accepts the truth that she has spoken while confronting its shortcomings. Are there places in your life where you try to hide the whole truth from God and from yourself? Ask God to let you experience release and freedom like that which allows the Samaritan woman to share her experience of Jesus with other townspeople.
In Matthew 16:13–20 Jesus asks His disciples “Who do you say that I am?” After Peter responds that He is the Christ, Jesus says that this knowledge came from God and orders him not to tell anyone that He is the Messiah. In His trial before Pilate, Jesus responds to Pilate, the Roman governor, by saying that others have said that He was “King of the Jews”. Even Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews is not given a direct answer to his implied question about Jesus’ identity. The Samaritan woman, however, is told unequivocally “I am He” when she asks about the Messiah (verse 26). This is the first “I am” statement in John’s gospel. She is also the first person to whom Jesus overtly reveals Himself. In part, this is because she is not one of His followers, and therefore possibly biased. She also is not a political or religious leader who might try to misinterpret or misuse the revelation. Spend some time reflecting on instances when God has explicitly revealed Himself to you. Thank Him for those experiences and for how He as met you in your life. Then, be bold in your prayer and ask God to be obvious in revealing Himself to you.