John, author of the gospel, made no effort to harmonize his writing with the other three Gospel writers. We can only assume that the events John recorded happened in sequence. Jesus was baptized and was recognized as the Messiah. He then began to gather up the disciples that would follow him for about three years. As he traveled from Galilee and along the way blessed their wedding feast with the best wine they had ever tasted. When he arrived in Jerusalem he went to the temple that he had earlier called “My Father’s House” and cleaned it up! He had found
merchants selling ox and sheep and pigeons in the temple courtyards. He saw the moneychangers sitting there. He overturned their tables and drove the animals out. Again he used the term “My Father’s House”.
These things happened during the first Passover that he attended with his disciples. While he was in Jerusalem a Pharisee named Nicodemus came to him at night. Most of the commentators that I have read attribute his coming at night to being an effort to hide the meeting from the public. I take an entirely different view. Both Jesus and Nicodemus were busy public figures. In order to have any kind of decent discussion they would need to meet at night.
Nicodemus would later defend Jesus before the Council. They were determined to condemn him to death. Nicodemus challenged, “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” (John 7:51). The next time we see Nicodemus he is assisting Joseph of Arimathea with the burial arrangements for Jesus.
After his discussion with Nicodemus Jesus left Jerusalem and traveled north to Galilee. John informs us that “he had to pass through Samaria” (John 4:4). This is a very significant statement. At that time Jews did not pass through Samaria! Let me set the scene. Jacob’s well was, and is, located between two hills. One named Ebal the other named Gerizim. When the Israelites invaded Canaan they paused in that valley to participate in an elaborate ritual.
They officially became the people of God that day in the valley. The event is recorded in Deuteronomy 27:9-26. Half of the tribes of Israel stood on Ebal to pronounce the curses found in the law. The other half stood on Gerizim and blessed the people. Cherlyn and I, in a tour group that included Bob and Beverly Hunt, stopped in that valley. Our tour guide announced “When God curses a place it remains cursed.” He then pointed out the tree covered hill lush and beautiful and said it is called Gerizim. Across the valley is a barren rocky hill called Ebal!
With that historic background why would Jews not travel through the region called Samaria? To answer that question we have to look at what happened to the region when Israel was taken into captivity. In the year 722 the northern kingdom of Israel was overrun by the armies of Assyria. At that time most of the Jews who live there were taken away and replaced by other conquered people. There were Jews who remained in the land and by order of the new rulers were mixed together with the foreigners. Then the government sent a priest to teach them the law of the god of the land. This resulted in a cult claiming to worship Yahweh as well as serving other gods. They used the five books of Moses and built a temple on Gerizim. Jews avoided the region occupied by these corrupted people. So, when Jesus announced that “he had to pass through Samaria” ( John 4:4) His disciples must have been very surprised. Jesus was tired and sat down by the well. While he was sitting there a Samaritan woman arrived.
Jesus was alone because he had sent his disciples into the nearby village to buy some food. Really, I believe, he sent them away by the direction of the Father because he had an appointment with this Samaritian woman. The time of Jesus’ appointment was noon.
The women of the village came there early in the morning to get water to do their daily chores. They also met at the well to discuss the day’s gossip. This lady was not very likely included in the gossip circle because of who she had become. She was likely the target of the gossip.
Jesus was sitting by the well and since he was a Jew she would not expect him to even recognize her existence. Instead, he asked her to give him water to drink!
John added a note for his non Jewish readers, “For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.” His request for a drink emboldened her to ask “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (John 4:9). His reply to her was way beyond what she might have expected. Jesus answered her, “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.” (John 4:10)
Immediately she jumped to a conclusion. If he could give her living water that would have allowed her not to have to come there to draw water it would be a real relief. She would no longer have to be concerned about what others thought about her. She asked him where he would get this water.
Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” (John 4:13-15)
Jesus’ reply startled her! Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” (John 4:16). Her answer was “I have no husband.” There, she got out of that discussion! Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” (John 4:17-18).
Then, in an attempt to change the subject, she said I can see that you are a prophet. Often, when people are confronted with spiritual truth they will attempt to change the subject. She certainly didn’t want to talk about her marital state but she would be willing to talk about the differences between her religion and that of the Jews.
Jesus ignored her religious talk. By the way Jesus ignored her religious opinions. Instead, Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:21-24).
She made one last effort to change the subject when she said, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” (John 4:25). Now she had something she could debate him about! She would talk about the coming of the Messiah. Jesus told her that he was the Messiah! She left her water jar and went to the town boldly announcing, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (John 4:29). About that time his disciples arrived. Knowing about the hate filled attitudes of the average Jew towards the average Samaritan they were quite surprised to find Jesus engaged in conversation with the Samaritan woman. Not just Samaritan but a Samaritan WOMAN! I also can imagine what they were doing with the food they bought in the village. It was certainly not kosher! Since Jesus had requested it it must have been all right but it certainly would not have been acceptable in their household. They had gone to all this trouble! They had gone into a Samaritan village! They had shopped for food that would be acceptable to a Jew.
To add insult to injury Jesus did not eat it! Instead he said “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” (John 4:32).
There were many things they would probably who wanted to discuss with him at that time. They would have — had the courage — asked why he was speaking to a woman. Instead of questioning Jesus they turned to each other and said, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” (John 4:33).
Now they were really confused. Where on earth could he have gotten food? So he immediately took the opportunity to teach them. Jesus never missed an opportunity to teach those who would follow with him.
Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. 36 Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” (John 4:34-38).
His food was to obey the Father. And if it was the Father’s will for him to have a discussion with a disgraced woman — so be it! Then he illustrated his ministry — and our ministry — with agriculture. The farmer has to wait for the field crop to be ripe before they can harvest. I am sure his disciples did not consider the Samaritans as a crop to be gathered. After all, they were Samaritans!
The first place that I preached every Sunday at was a migrant worker camp. It happened that those who would be there on Sunday (their day off) would mostly be women and children. Also, this camp was in the segregated South and so the women and children would have been poor and black! There was a railroad track beside the camp. Over on the other side of the track was a small community with a church! Our associational director of missions wanted someone to share the gospel with these people who lived within eyesight of a church building! I had responsibility at our church several miles away on Sunday mornings and evenings so I went to the camp at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. After I had been coming there a few weeks a well-dressed African-American man came walking across the railroad track to ask me what I was doing. I explained the situation to him and he said, “I am one of the deacons at the church across the track.”
I asked him why his church did not have a ministry among these people? Even considering the black-white segregation that we had all grown up with, I was not prepared for his answer. He said, “you don’t understand. The people that go to our church own their own homes and have year-round jobs. These people” — he pointed at the women and children in the congregation — “are migrant workers. They just wouldn’t fit in with our congregation.” They did not lift up their eyes to the fields and see them ripe to harvest. Instead, they saw them as a problem to be dealt with. Prejudice often keeps people from hearing the gospel. And is not just black-white prejudice! My term as a field missionary ended when the migrants moved on. I never knew what resulted from my sharing the gospel with those people. I did make every effort to not show any prejudice.
Back to Jesus’ story. The people who were witnessed to by the woman at the well continued their prejudice towards her even though they believed the message that she brought. They were happy to say to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” (John 4:42).
I wonder if their belief in the Messiah ever changed their attitudes towards their neighbor at the well? I also wonder if, some years later, Philip found believers who had been evangelized by Jesus himself when he traveled into Samaria to escape the sword of Saul of Tarsus. (Acts 8:4ff) That’s another sermon for another day.
The Bible tells us, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Romans 10:9-11)
Have you believed in him? This could be your day!
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton, Ill, Standard Bible Society.