The Woman at the Well Jn 4: 1 – 42
I am sure we are all familiar with this story, if not, I suggest that you take time to read it once more from your Bible.
On the surface this is a rather simple story. Jesus meets the woman at the well. He asks her for a drink of water. They discuss the merits of the Jewish and Samaritan religions. Along the way the woman tells a little of her personal story. The village is converted to following Jesus’ teaching. Nothing very challenging, here. Why call it, “Jesus the Rebel?”
When reading the Gospel of John, we should remember that all the stories have a symbolic meaning. John never intended to write a newspaper report. He and his community had been reflecting on the memories of Jesus. Day by day they grew in their understanding of Jesus and the Good News he came to share. Through discussion, reflection and prayer, their understanding and love of Jesus grew. It is this understanding John shares with us in this story.
The story opens with Jesus deciding to return to Galilee.
“He had to pass through Samaria”. Now this is incorrect. Jesus was probably near Salim. A glance at the map of Israel shows that the shortest route to Galilee was to go north along the Jordan valley. (dotted arrow) The route he took is shown with a solid arrow. As a Jew he should not have gone near Samaria.
By having him go through Samaria John is showing us that Jesus could see no division between Jew, Gentile and Samaritans. This is revolutionary thinking.
Jews and Samaritans had hated each other for seven hundred of years. In 721 the conquering Assyrians deported many Jewish inhabitants and colonised Samaria with foreigners. Jews and Pagans inter-married. Any person born of such parents could never be accepted as a ‘proper’ Jew. (These ideas sounds familiar to us.) Worse still they built their own temple. Of course God could not possibly have lived there. All Jews knew God lived only in Jerusalem. Just to make sure that God did not go near the wrong temple, the Jewish High Priest organised the destruction of the Samaritan temple. (128 BC) When Jesus goes out of his way to visit Samaria he is challenging the ‘apartheid’ in Jewish and Samaritan thinking.
Sitting at the well, he speaks to the woman, “Give me a drink.’( v 7) “Now Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.” The woman can hardly believe what is happening. Jewish men do not talk to women in public. Worse still, they are alone and she is a Samaritan. Jesus is flouting custom and prohibition, by behaving in this scandalous manner.
Women went to collect water from the well in the morning and evening. Her presence there at noon indicates that she is not even accepted by the women of her community. Not surprising when you think about the five husbands.
When his disciples return they are not impressed. “They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, ‘What do you want’ to the woman? or, to Jesus, ‘ Why are you speaking with her?’
Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! Perhaps he is the Messiah.”
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony. They came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. “We have heard for ourselves and we know that this is truly the saviour of the world.” (v 39 – 42)
This must be one of the most successful conversion stories of all time. Seven hundred years of hatred come to an end in this village. Women are raised to a status equal to men. The apostle to the Samaritans is a nameless woman.
Follow her changing attitude to Jesus. First he is “a Jew” asking for water. Jesus’ kind and considerate behaviour pays off and very soon her attitude changes. She addresses him as, “Sir”. (v 15) Her relationship changes further, from prophet, to ‘the Messiah’, maybe, to ‘the Saviour of the world.’ All it took was a little kindness and the courage to challenge the unthinking prejudice towards Samaritans and Women.