Part 1 (verses 1-8)
The Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John, although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. When the Lord learned of this, he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.
Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 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.
When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
Gospel of John
To even speak to this woman is scandalous. To speak to any woman unaccompanied by her father, brother, husband or other male relation is to imply a sexual interest.
To drink from her Samaritan hands would have – according to the Pharisees – made any faithful Jew impure. She is spiritually polluted.
Yet Jesus asks her for a drink.
Despite instructions to his disciples to avoid Samaritan towns, Jesus has traveled into the heart of Samaria, into the shadow of Mt. Gerizim.
Despite a clear religious code separating male from female and Jew from Samaritan, Jesus seeks sustenance from her.
Part 2 (verses 9-15)
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.)
Jesus answered her, “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.”
“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?”
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
The woman is surprised by the Jewish man’s request, but she is not intimidated. She responds to Jesus’ request by noting it is inappropriate. Samaritan and Jew are to avoid each other as much as possible.
Jesus responds obliquely. He speaks in the third person (at least in this translation) and suggests she should ask him for a drink of living water. She would do so, he says, if she knew the gift of God.
Once again she responds directly and practically. Again Jesus responds cryptically, claiming – contrary to all evidence – that he has great power.
I hear a deeply ironic, even dismissive tone when she says, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” Jesus speaks of eternal life. She is tired of coming to the well each day… and dealing with the troublemakers who linger about.
Jesus has chosen to bridge what separates his religious identity from the other by focusing on what each share in relationship to God. This is received skeptically, even cynically, but Jesus persists.
Part 3 (verses 16-25)
He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
“I have no husband,” she replied.”
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.”
The gospel continues with the woman gathering her neighbors to listen to Jesus. “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers.” (verses 39-41)
So much for not visiting the towns of Samaritans.
How Jesus told the woman everything she did is an issue for another day. In any case, Jesus puts aside his cryptic comments and shifts to matters profoundly personal.
In my reading her initial reaction is defensive. She expects the Jew to belittle her Samaritan tradition.
Instead Jesus critiques both Jew and Samaritan pointing to a more fundamental understanding of worship. The Greek used for worship here is proskuneo. This is to bow down to kiss, a humble intimacy, or a profound submission. Jew or Samaritan is not important. What is important is to be truly and spiritually in relationship with God.
Jesus reaches out to the woman of another faith – and her co-religionists – by initiating the conversation, taking the conversation to a deeply personal level, and emphasizing the transcendent aspects of faith rather than the instrumental aspects of religious practice.
These readings will continue next Saturday. This weekend series began on Friday, December 3 with Tis the season… to deal directly with religious difference.
The second post, on December 4, was Avoid Samaritan Towns.