True story. Last weekend, I was sitting in my adult Sunday school class around 10 am. Our preacher….let’s call him “Bob” to protect his real identity….so Reverend Bob has us open our Bibles to the gospel of John, specifically chapter 4, verses 1 through 30. This one is commonly referred to as the story of the “Woman at the Well”.
Bob launched right into the scripture:
“Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.
Now he had to go through Samaria…..”
“Wait….stop right there”, shouted Reverend Bob. “Now here’s a bit of Bible controversy. Did Jesus really ‘have’ to go through Samaria…..?”
We scratched our heads a little bit while our teacher explained that there were such prejudices during that time between the Jews and the Samaritans, that most Jewish travelers would bypass going through Samaria. Instead of taking that direct route, due north, between Judea and Galilee (approximately 70 miles), they would instead travel a hot desert road, avoiding Samaria but nearly doubling the distance. The hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans dated back several hundred years. They avoided one another completely.
So, to Reverend Bob’s point, there was no reason to say that Jesus HAD to go due north and travel through Samaria to get back to Galilee.
But Jesus does anyway. He’s exhausted by the time he gets to Samaria and he stops to rest at the well.
Here’s where the story gets interesting.
A Samaritan woman comes to the same well to draw water into her jar. Jesus says to her, “Give me a drink….”.
The woman is shocked. Knowing he is Jewish, she responds saying “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”
Jesus responds, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
What is this “living water” that Jesus is speaking about? Sounds like some sort of magical drink, maybe?
Then Jesus begins to tell the woman much of her history; many of the things she hides from others including the fact that she’s had five husbands and that the man she’s staying with now is indeed not her husband.
Talk about some “street cred…”. The woman had to be asking herself, “This Jewish man is not supposed to know anything about me, much less even talk to me, a Samaritan. How is that he knows these things….?”
If you read the remainder of this chapter in John, you’ll see how the woman is changed by what Jesus is saying to her. She immediately leaves her jar at the well, and runs back to the village to evangelize all that she has heard and seen that day.
Notice the symbolism of her leaving behind the water jar. That jar is probably one of her most prized possessions; something that she does to bring refreshment to the villagers. She uses it to bring water from the well. But just as Jesus tells her to take the “living water” that he can provide, she leaves behind the physical water, to preach to the others about the “living water” that Jesus speaks about. Arguably, the woman at the well is not only a story of change, but also reveals to us the first preacher in the Bible.
Lastly, just as the woman leaves behind her prized possession, we too must shed ourselves of some of our world possessions, in order to see what Jesus is telling us to do.
So, going back to Reverend Bob, who said that perhaps the notion that Jesus HAD to go through Samaria is incorrect. Geographically, Jesus could have maintained the status-quo and taken the much more desired yet longer route. Then again, perhaps Jesus “HAD” to go through Samaria, not only to demonstrate putting prejudices aside, but to also demonstrate compassion, healing, and the merits of obedience to God.
Drink it up….!