Summary: The Samaritan woman at the well was an unlikely candidate to become one of Jesus' first evangelists, yet that's exactly what she was. Jesus extended grace to the Samaritan woman, which changed her. How could she help but share the good news!
This morning, we sit down at the “foot” of Jacob’s Well. This passage from John about Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well just outside of Sychar is rich with messages and lessons for all who seek Jesus. One commentator reflected that this is “a text with it’s own bucket, ready for filling. Let it down again and again, each time it comes up with another sermon of living water, another deep drink from the well that will not go dry.” How very true that is! There’s the message of “living water,” within this passage, there is a message about reaping the harvest (though I did not read this part this morning). This passage is rich in significance for our lives. But this morning, as will be the case for the next several weeks, we are going to focus on the woman at the center of this passage. The Samaritan woman who has come to Jacob’s Well in the middle of the day to draw water, but who ends up having an unexpected, life-changing encounter with a Jew named Jesus.
Just as there is a lot to take in with this passage as a whole, so there is also much to be learned from the woman herself. Let’s start with the fact that she’s a Samaritan. Samaria is the name given to the land between Galilee in the North, and Judea in the south. If one is traveling from North to South, as John tells us Jesus and his disciples were doing, the natural root is through Samaria. But Jews often avoided this route so they could avoid the Samaritans. Any of us who have even a cursory knowledge of the New Testament know that the Samaritans were not so very well-liked to say the least, and the Jews and Samaritans really didn’t get along well at all. In order to understand why, though, we have to go way back in Jewish history, to more than 400 years before Jesus’ birth. During the Babylonian exile, most of the Jews were carted out of their homeland and distributed elsewhere around the Babylonian Empire. In this time of exile, many Jewish practices came to be influenced by the cultural tendencies of the Babylonians. But there were some Jews who remained in the area of Judea, and so they came to view themselves as the only true descendants of Abraham because they were the only ones not influenced by outside forces. They came to be known as Samaritans, and they opposed the return of the Jewish exiles after the end of Babylonian occupation. The Samaritans and the Jews also disagreed about the place of true worship; the Jewish people, of course, pointed to the Temple in Jerusalem, while the Samaritans believed God’s dwelling was the Temple on Mount Gerizim.
In any case, the Jews and Samaritans at their worst would get involved in skirmishes, with bloodshed and murder, but at best they still avoided each other at all costs and simply did not mix. “The Jews wouldn’t have anything to do with the Samaritans. They would, especially, not share eating and drinking vessels with them. And yet, Jesus [asks] this woman for a drink.”