In the sermon “Through Samaria” (Woodland Hills Church, St. Paul, MN, USA) there is a very good point Greg Boyd makes. Jesus had to go through Samaria. It was likely their custom as Jews was to go around Samaria during this particular time in history, so why did Jesus have to go through Samaria? What does this mean for us today? And why do we need to include animals in our assessment of what this means for us in the modern world?
The story begins in John 4:4-30. Jesus is leaving Judea and going back to Galilee; instead of going around Samaria, he went through Samaria. Near the small town of Sychar, tired from his journey, he sat down about the noon hour by the well (the very well Jacob had given them so long ago). His disciples went into the town to buy food. A Samaritan woman comes to draw water, and Jesus asks her “Will you give me a drink?” (John 4:7)
Jesus’ ministry on earth was about revolt. Everything he did and said was in revolt against the customs and cultures that had been established but were not of God. There was no love lost between the peoples of Samaria and the Jewish peoples; in fact there was a lot of hostility between the two people groups:
Hatred between these two groups dated back to the days of the patriarchs and the twelve tribes of Israel (Jacob). Joseph, Israel’s (God had renamed Jacob Israel) favorite son out of the twelve, was despised by his brothers who tried to do away with Him. But God intervened; He used Joseph to preserve the lives of the entire clan. The blessing was fulfilled. The land that was allotted to the tribes of Joseph’s two sons Ephraim and Manasseh, is that which eventually became Samaria.
Later, Israel divided into two kingdoms, the northern kingdom of Samaria, and the southern kingdom of Judah. After Judah fell to Babylon and was carried off into captivity, a remnant was permitted to rebuild Jerusalem. The southern kingdom vigorously opposed this reconstruction and tried to thwart it at every turn. The northern kingdom now known as Samaria, had been conquered by Assryia, and the few Jews that remained had become acclimated to the ways of the foreigners who had invaded their land. The monotheistic Jews of the southern kingdom (the remnant of Judah) hated the mixed marriages and worship of their northern relatives (the Samaritan Jews who had married Gentiles and had fallen to worship the idols of the invaders). Other differences grew between the two peoples as well. The Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible) was believed by the Samaritans to be the only books inspired by God, and their theology was different than that of the Jews. The Samaritans worshiped on Mount Gerizim; the Jews rebuilt their temple in Jerusalem and worshiped there. “Walls of bitterness were erected on both sides and did nothing but harden for the next 550 years” (see Bible.org).
Also, women were second class citizens, not much higher than that of the slaves. In ancient Jewish culture, a man did not talk to a woman who was not his wife. Jewish people and Samaritan people did not talk to each other, period. So when Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well and asked her for a drink of water – a Jewish man who is not your husband is speaking to you, asking to drink water out of your cup, a Samaritan’s cup – this was incredibly scandalous! Imagine it, here you are, a Samaritan women drawing from the well at the noon hour and a Jewish man asks you for a drink of water. You say to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (John 4:9). The time is significant (the noon hour) because it tells us that this woman is not an upper class female citizen come to draw water during the morning hours when the day is yet cool; she has come to the well after others have come and gone, and come alone to avoid a jeering crowd:
At this point, Jesus answers the woman and says, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10).
She might be thinking “this is a bit strange.” So she says to this odd Jewish man:
“You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?” (John 4:11) and asks if he is greater than their father Jacob who gave them the well. Jesus continues to tell the woman that “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst….” (John 4:13). At this point, the woman, perhaps a bit perplexed, thinking of this water as literally the physical substance, that she won’t have to come again to the well, asks for the living water (John 4:15). Jesus asks her to go and come back with her husband, to which she speaks the truth, that she has no husband. Jesus follows by telling her all about herself, her five husbands and that the man she is living with now is not her husband, though she had told him none of this.
I can imagine being this woman. In her culture, she is lower than low. She has been divorced five times (it is the man that divorces the woman, a woman cannot divorce a man). She has no standing in her community and is probably shunned by everyone. Men rule over women and women are dependent upon men for provision. Now she is left with a much smaller, less elite selection of men to be chosen by, if she is chosen at all. She is now very curious, here is a Jewish man not her husband talking to her, did not condemn her, but treated her with respect, concern for her well being; she perhaps is realizing he is no ordinary man:
She says “Sir, I can see you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem” (John 4:19) to which Jesus replies, “Woman, believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain (Mount Gerizim) nor in Jerusalem” (John 4:21).
Jesus is pointing out to her that it is not a place of worship that is the Father’s concern, for worshiping Him is not about a place, as the two sides have argued and fought about for centuries. He goes on:
“You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22).
Jesus rebukes the Samaritans worship of idols and correctly points out that salvation comes from the Jewish lineage (the Messiah) and continues:
“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth….” (John 4:23).
Jesus is saying that the time has come to worship the Father in Spirit (it is not about a place) and in truth (it is not about a certain people group but about all people). Jesus calls out a un-truth in the way that people have been worshiping the Father (a certain place and a certain kind or lineage/race of people). The Samaritan woman most likely knows he is no ordinary Jew and says to him:
“I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Jesus answered, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he” (John 4:25,26).
Next week, we will continue discussing why Jesus had to go through Samaria. We will also examine what the ‘Samaria’ of today’s cultures look like, how animals fit into the picture especially in our modern world, and speculate on how we can look more like Christ as His followers in the present age. Thank you for following our blog; we hope you are blessed by it. Comments are always welcome. ~Kathy