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John 4:4-9 NIV
4 Now he [Jesus] had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour.
7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, "Will you give me a drink?" 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
9 The Samaritan woman said to him, "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?" (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
January 6, 2010I grew up in the country about 1 mile south of the city limits of Lebanon, Pennsylvania. And I always knew that people from the country were superior to those living in the city! We were stronger, healthier, worked harder and learned responsibility earlier than our city counterparts. I don't know just how I acquired this attitude, but I was certain farm boys could whip the city boys. Looking back now, I'm sure the residents of the city felt superior to us country bumpkins, too.
Sometime in my teenage years I found out that my mother was raised in the wrong end of Lebanon among people called hunkies. They were immigrants from who-knows-where! Of course the folks in Lebanon looked down on them as inferior, beneath them in status.
In Jesus day, it was not a matter of place that determined ones viability in life. It was a matter of purity. And bloodlines. Jews could be found living in all the known world. The only question that mattered was genealogy. During the years from approximately 700 to 500 B.C. when the nation of Israel was overrun by neighboring armies and forced into servitude, many of them intermarried with the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Medes and Persians.
Because of their mixed blood; they were considered impure, inferior, less than a true Jew. In subsequent years, many of those who returned to Israel lived in the territory known as Samaria. They worshipped, not at the Temple in Jerusalem, but on Mount Gerizim, near Sycar. Their land was rich in Jewish history--Abraham, Jacob and Moses had all built altars on that mountain. Yet those who thought of themselves as true Jews avoided as much of Samaria as possible.
The interaction between Jesus and the Samaritan woman defied all conventional thinking about what was proper and improper behavior.
More journal entries
November 26, 2001
The most direct route to Galilee was through Samaria and Jesus chose the town of Sychar with a history going back to Jacob giving some land to his son Joseph. Jacob's two thousand year old well was still there and that's where Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down to rest and refresh. It was noon.
His disciples had gone into town to find some lunch when a Samaritan woman came to draw water. Some think she came at midday to avoid other people. If so, I can identify with that. When I go on work trips, I try to get up early and use the shower house before it gets crowded and people have to stand in line to wait their turn. I don't mind missing the lively chatter, preferring to get in and out quickly.
This woman was surprised to find a man sitting alone at the well in the heat of the day. Adding to her surprise was that he spoke to her. Will you give me a drink? She recognized Jesus as a Jew and knew he couldn't drink from her utensil because to do so would make him unclean. (Clean and unclean was a fight Jesus did intend to fight). I suppose she didn't know how to interpret his request. It was a question never asked of her before and never anticipated.
She gave him a factual response, topping it off with a rhetorical question. You are a Jew. I am a Samaritan woman. There's no way you would drink from my cup! Are you crazy?
September 10, 1982Jesus--a tourist, tired, hungry and thirsty. Jesus, the pure Son of God, in an "unclean" territory. Samaritans were social and religious outcasts. The Jews looked down on them. Samaria lay between Galilee and Judea, it couldn't be avoided unless you traveled up along the east side of the Jordan River.
Jesus sat down beside the well as though he had every right to be there. This land was part of his religious heritage even though it was now inhabited by Samaritans.
Jesus, on a journey, fleeing controversy and religious divisions and arguments, needing a break and refreshment in a strange and potentially hostile land. He sits down alone in a public place. Similar to sitting down at a small town post office. Someone is bound to come along and strike up a conversation.
Was Jesus wishing someone would offer hospitality? He had no schedule nor deadlines to keep, he could have changed his plans and stayed. It sounds like Jesus sat down and waited for excitement to find him. Or was he waiting for someone? Wouldn't you think if he were thirsty he would have gone to look for something with which to draw the water?
I used to enjoy taking our dog Blue (a gorgeous Siberian Husky) for a walk into downtown Lancaster, especially on market days. Blue was a conversation starter, and we talked to anyone who looked like they wanted to talk to us. I'm intrigued by people who hike around the country, usually solo, living off the land and local hospitality. They trade a story for a meal. What do they trade for a bed? Probably more stories.
Jesus was something like those wanderers. By the end of John's account of this incident we'll see what Jesus gave in return for hospitality.
September 11, 1982 It was midday. Dawn and dusk were the usual times to come for water. Why would anyone in their right mind wait until the sun was hot to do this chore? I suppose the same could be said for Jesus. Why would anyone wait at noon by a well for someone to give then a drink? But presently one Samaritan woman did arrive on the scene. She was so ostracized and condemned by her community that she waited until the least busy part of the day when it was less likely she would meet anyone.
Midday--midlife. Some days I feel withdrawn like the woman of Sychar. Unhappy, ready for a change. How lucky for her that she was about to meet Jesus. She didn't arrange it, it was God's doing. There were many other people in a multitude of other towns who also needed an encounter with Jesus. But on this day, she was the one.
Thomas Kelly wrote that anyone can experience God's presence because his light is within us all. God is the Initiator, the Aggressor, the Hound of Heaven, the Good Shepard in search of his sheep. He will find anyone who wants to be found.
What would it be like to be this woman of Sychar--a routine day, doing a routine task, about to have an experience that will revolutionize her life. God invading her life. Not in an active way like Jacob wrestling with the angel. But more like Moses, startled and curious at the burning bush. Did she feel as I do sometimes--like a failure with little for God to work with. But God is able for all things and all people, even me!
September 16, 1982It sounds like Jesus and this woman were alone, in a public place. Jesus initiated the conversation by asking a favor. How human was that. I have learned in life that people like to be helpful and a good way to begin a conversation is to ask if they would help me with something. Lost on an unfamiliar street corner! Don't worry. The next person I see will probably be more than eager to assist me. (Yes, I'm from small-town America.)
Jesus' request was like a bridge that enabled them to converse. It opened the way for him to talk about living water.
Did Jesus and this woman enjoy their initial contact? When Jesus sat down, was he waiting for and expecting this woman to come to the well for water? Was she, once again, glad to be a woman because his eyes were happy to see her?
September 17, 1982Two things are out of order at the start of this story.--man talking to an unrelated woman in an Eastern culture; and a Jew requesting a favor from a Samaritan. This woman, instead of instantly giving Jesus a drink, asked him a question. Did Jesus ever get his drink? It doesn't say. Maybe she gave him his drink and asked her question at the same time.
Hey man, don't you know the rules, where have you been! You shouldn't be talking to me! Those who break rules and flirt with society's no-no's,notice right away when others break with tradition. There's a camaraderie. She was a social outcast, a loose woman, living with her sixth man, unable to maintain, or not liking, a sustained relationship. Here in the warmth of the mid-day sun, she met someone with spirit enough to think for himself instead of being bound by taboos. This story is a good one for our times, lots of people would like both main characters.--spirited, free thinkers, not bound by traditions and social pressures. Two of a kind in the sense they had both decided to live their lives without the blessing of conventional society--and yet how different they were!
Jesus asked the woman for a drink, but knew he had something better to offer in return. He asked for a favor, a cup of cool water, because he had a greater gift to give to her.