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Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst again. (John 4.13)
The episode where Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well is one of my favorite stories in John’s entire gospel. In it, we discover that Jesus has a heart for those who are outside what we might consider the “appropriate” circle.
Jesus’ whole reason for leaving Judea was rooted in the fact that the Pharisees were beginning to ask questions about the influence Jesus was having in baptizing disciples compared to the number of followers John the Baptist was baptizing. (For more on this, see John 3.) Jesus was not one to shy away from a confrontation with the Pharisees, but I do think his desire was to avoid any unnecessary problems when Jesus had more important things to do. So, he heads to Galilee…
John tells us that Jesus “had to go through Samaria,” which if you had been a good Jewish reader of John’s gospel would have caused you some heartburn. To a good Jew, there was never a reason any Jew should have to go through Samaria. The conflict between these two people was long and complicated. It centered on things like what books should be in included in what we would now call the Old Testament and as a result of including some, but not others, having a difference of opinion on where one could worship God. (Notice the woman’s statements about the mountain on which the Samaritans worshipped in verse 20. This was a nod to these conflicts.) Add the fact that the Jews burned down the Samaritan temple and you can see why there was a tension between these two peoples.
So the question we might ask ourselves is this: Why was it important for Jesus to visit with this woman? It would have been no big deal for him to ignore her. Cultural norms would have dictated as much: she was a Samaritan. Not only was she a Samaritan, but she was also a woman. Women did not have much of a standing in Jesus’ day and in the world in which he lived. Finally, she was a woman who had a “checkered” past. If we were going to list the people we might bring together to start Christianity, women with 5 husbands probably do not rise to the top of our list.
So why did Jesus spend time sharing with this woman (whom we do not even know by name)? I think quite simply, it was because this is what Jesus did. To him, she was a woman in need, a woman who needed to hear the good news, and a person for whom Jesus cared. While the “important religious leaders” were dickering over how many followers Jesus or John or the Pharisees might have attracted, Jesus was attracting people who he knew needed him. And in the midst of this woman and many of her friends following Jesus, we discover that he really was “the Savior of the world.”
If Jesus came back today, who do you think would be the “Samaritan woman at the well” that he offered living water? How well do we reach out to these people you have identified? What things can we do to exhibit more of the attitude Jesus did to this woman?
How surprised are you to find that a Samaritan (remember: these would have been people despised by the Jews) is one of the first in John’s gospel to proclaim Jesus as “Savior of the world?” When you consider what you have read in John’s gospel up to this point, how important is this proclamation? How important is it that it comes from a Samaritan?
Jesus is said to have performed two signs up to this point in John’s gospel: turning the water into wine at the Cana wedding feast in John 2 and now healing a royal official’s son who was ill (there will be seven total signs). Why are these signs important? How do these signs affect the people of John’s gospel? While we may not have Jesus here on earth healing people, how have you seen signs of his presence with us/you and how have these things helped your belief in him?