Summary: Jesus showed God’s love to one of His lost sheep beside a well in Samaria and then He showed His love for all of His lost sheep on the cross.
Ahhh … small town country living! Where everybody knows everybody …and everybody knows everybody’s business, amen?
Sychar was your typical small country town where everybody knew everybody … and everybody knew everybody’s business. Sychar’s only claim to fame was that it was located a half mile from Jacob’s well. They were also located on the main road that led from Jerusalem to Galilee … so they were accustomed to seeing travelers passing through … some of them occasionally spending the night before they went on their way.
Okay … you’ve probably heard it mentioned many, many times that the Jewish travelers would walk miles out of their way not to be contaminated from touching Samaritan soil or land. There is strong evidence that this wasn’t the case. The road that passed near Sychar was indeed the most direct route. Traveling was dangerous and difficult in Jesus’ day. Highway men, wild animals, lack of food and shelter, and exposure to the elements made it wise to get where you were going in the fastest and most direct way possible, amen? Going around Samaria would take you seven days out of your way, and when you’re walking on foot, I don’t know about you but I think I could put aside any religious or cultural disputes or prejudices that I might have with the Samaritans for awhile, don’t you? The first-century Jewish historian Josephus wrote: “For rapid travel, it was essential to take that route by which Jerusalem may be reached in three days from Galilee” (Life of Josephus, p. 269; emphasis mine). In his book Antiquities, Josephus explained that it was “the custom of the Galileans, when they came to [Jerusalem] at the time of the festivals, to take their journeys through the country of the Samaritans” (Antiquities 20:118). As we know, thousands traveled to Jerusalem for the annual festivals from the surrounding regions and many, many people would have passed through Samaria rather than take a week to walk around it.
The rabbis understood the reality of this situation. The Toseta, which is the book of Jewish oral law, allowed Jewish herdsman to leave their cattle in the care of Samaritans and graze on Samaritan land as they were passing through the region (Avodah Zarah 3:1). The rabbis declared Samaria’s ritual immersion pools, dwellings, and paths to be ritually clean because these things were needed by the many Jewish pilgrims and travelers passing through Samaria on their way to Jerusalem (Tosefta Mikvaot 6:1; Jerusalem Talmud Avodah Zarah 5:4). They also declared food cooked by Samaritans as clean (Jerusalem Talmud Avodah Zarah 5:4) because there weren’t Burger Kings and Applebees or Quickie Marts around every corner. In fact, when Jesus and His disciples arrived at the well, what did Jesus do? He sent them into Sychar to get food (John 4:8).
Actually, this was not the only time that Jesus intentionally travelled through Samaria. In Luke 9:52-53, ironically, it was the Samaritans who told Jesus and His Disciples that they had to go around their city and Jesus’ Disciples asked His permission to rain down fire from Heaven on them but Jesus rebuked them (Luke 9:54-55). Jesus also healed 10 lepers as He was passing through Samaria (Luke 17:11-19). Later on, we hear of one of Jesus’ Disciples, Philip, evangelizing in the city of Samaria (Acts 8:5) as Jesus had commanded: “… you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The leaders of the Christian community sent Peter and John to Samaria when they heard that the Samaritans had accepted the Word of God (Acts 8:14). Later they did the same thing with Paul and Barnabas (15:3).
From passages like this and evidence from various Jewish writers like Josephus, it is clear that the Jews traveled to and through Samaria all the time without too much concern about Jewish-Samaritan hatred, violence, or ritual impurity (Assemblies of God (USA) Official Web Site | Did Jews Travel Through Samaria in the Time of Jesus? (ag.org).
Keep in mind, however, that both sides made these accommodations out of necessity and survival. Aside from that, the Jews and the Samaritans didn’t just dislike each other … they openly hated and outright despised each other. One of the Samaritans’ favorite past-times was to taunt the Jews. They rejected the Jewish Testament except for the Pentateuch … the first five books of the Old Testament … Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The Samaritans claimed that their testament or holy book … called the Samaritan Pentateuch (www.the-samaritans.net) was older than the Jews’ … hence the original. They openly boasted that they kept the precepts of Yahweh better than the Jews themselves. Translation: that made them holier and gave them a better chance of getting in Heaven than the Jews (www.bible-history.com/samaritans).