Saturday, March 17, 2012

The story of the Samaritan woman at the well.

The story of the Samaritan woman at the well makes a strong statement about Jesus breaking down the dividing wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles at that time. Jesus blithely disregarded the ancient enmity between the two groups. The Samaritan woman at the well is an episode in the life of Jesus that appears only in the Gospel of (John 4:4-26).

During the course of his journeys, Jesus traveled from Judea in the south back to Galilee in the north, going via Samaria. Normally, Jewish travelers made a detour around Samaria to avoid contact with Samaritans, but Jesus took the direct route. He came to Sychar, which was a town near Jacob’s Well.

There had once been a great city there, just where this incident took place. Nearby on the peak of Mount Gerizim had been a temple that rivaled the Temple of Jerusalem. All this had been destroyed before the time of Jesus, and only a village remained. Jesus stopped, tired and thirsty in the midday heat. The disciples had gone to the town to buy food. Only a Samaritan woman was there, drawing water from the well. Every drop of water used in a household had to be carried from the local well. So every day woman walked to the well, filled their heavy earthenware jars, and carried the water home.

Jesus asked the Samaritan woman for something to drink, and here begins the longest conversation. It is surprising that this conversation happens with someone who was a woman, and non-Jewish. The woman herself was certainly surprised when Jesus spoke to her, because Jews and Samaritans did not have anything to do with each other. (John 4: 9) There had been a long-running conflict between the Jews and the Samaritans. By the time of Jesus, the Jews thought that the people who lived in Samaria were not true descendants of the great Jewish ancestors, and that their religion was not true Judaism but a mixture of beliefs.

At this stage the story contains a great deal of symbolism. Jesus began talking to the woman about ‘living water.’ Naturally, this caught the interest of the woman, as she was burdened with the daily task of carrying water. She asked Him, "Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep and are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?" Jesus explained that when people drink ordinary water, they get thirsty again. But he had water springing up into everlasting life." The women ask him for some of this water so she may not thirst again. (John 4:15)

Jesus then told her to go and get her husband. She did not have one, she replied. 'You have had five husbands, said Jesus, but the man you are living with now is not your husband.' The woman understood Jesus’ meaning immediately. The woman called him a prophet, and began asking him about the differences between Samaritan and Jewish worship. She knew that the temple on nearby Mount Gerizim had been the central place of worship for the Samaritans, rivaling the Temple in Jerusalem. Samaritans and Jews always argued over which of the two temples was the true place to worship. Basically the woman was talking with Jesus about where and how you should worship God, an issue that interested her. Jesus told her that very soon none of these arguments would matter, they would not worship on Mount Gerizim or in Jerusalem. "But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; (John 4:21-23)

Then the woman said to Him, "I know that Messiah is coming" (who is called Christ). "When He comes, He will tell us all things." Jesus said I am he. Note that the disciples are surprised when they returned that Jesus is talking to a Samaritan woman. (John 4:27) They are surprised that he is talking to a Samaritan, 30AD, Samaritans were viewed with great suspicion. Jesus was showing his disciples then the situation was changing, and the Samaritans would also be a part of the household of God.

The woman left the water jar she has brought and hurried back to the town. ‘She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and went on their way to him.’(John 4:28-30) Leaving her water jar behind seems like a trivial piece of information, but it parallels other incidents in the gospels, when various men left their everyday pursuits, abandoning fishing nets or tax collection tables to immediately respond to Jesus. The Samaritan woman did the same thing, but on her own initiative. The woman told everyone about Jesus, suggesting that he might be the Messiah.

In the meantime, the disciples of Jesus urged him to eat. But Jesus refused, saying that he has eaten food they did not know about. Jesus extended the idea to give it a spiritual dimension.

Then Jesus talked about the harvest. He was not referring to a harvest of foodstuffs, but to the many Samaritan who would believe in him. Among them were the Samaritan townspeople, who had listened to the words of the woman. (John 4:39-42) Many people believed in Jesus, not just because of the woman, but because they have seen for themselves that Jesus was the Saviour of the world.

Inclusion of the Samaritans among those whom Jesus favored was revolutionary, since there was bitter enmity between the Jewish and Samaritan peoples. Jesus was extending out God’s hand in love. The woman told many about Jesus. In this, she acted as an apostle, going out to tell people about Jesus, and bringing them to him.‘Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony “He told me everything I have ever done”. So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days.’(John 4:39-42)

In this story, of the Samaritan woman it shows the experienced the progressive stages of faith in Jesus. She met a Jew learnt about him, and came to believe in him. It did not matter that she was a woman and a Samaritan to Jesus. Gender and nationality were not important. No one was excluded from the Christian community. This was a lesson Paul would soon have to learn.