The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) John 4:9
John’s gospel devotes a sizable portion of its narrative showing Jesus breaking with the religious and cultural conventions of His day. Of course, this isn’t just Jesus being contrary. No, in each case, something of eternal significance is at stake. In chapter 4, we find Jesus’s conversation with the woman from Sychar.
Now, you are probably very familiar with the animosity that existed between the Jews and the Samaritans. This dates back to the Assyrian captivity. The Assyrians took the Jews captive, leaving only the poorest in the land, and then repopulated the region with other dregs of humanity from other conquered nations. The association and intermarriages resulted in a mixed race population with a religion that was just as mixed.
When the Jews returned from Babylon, the Samaritans were rebuffed in their offer to help with the rebuilding and then set out to interfere with the project, even slandering Nehemiah to try to bring it to a halt. You can check Nehemiah for more details. The bad blood intensified about a hundred years before Jesus when high priest/king John Hyrcanus overran Samaria and destroyed the temple on Mount Gerizim. This even figures into the conversation Jesus has with the woman.
So against that backdrop, about noon, Jesus sends the disciples off to get lunch and He takes a seat by the town well of Sychar. It isn’t long before a woman comes to draw water from the well. Water-drawing time was usually in the morning and evening and served as a social event. The fact that the woman was coming when she expected the well to be deserted is significant.
A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” John 4:7
Jesus asks her for a drink. He initiates the conversation. This is huge. Men did not talk to women in public. Especially rabbis. In fact, rabbis didn’t even talk to their wives in public. This was part of that whole “hedge around the Law” thing. To keep from committing any kind of sexual sin, or giving anyone reason to suspect anything, opposite sexes didn’t even talk. Generally religious teachers wouldn’t stoop to talking with common people, so He broke that convention as well. Plus Jews did not, did not, talk to Samaritans.
We know the rest of the story and we know that that this woman had some scandal, some baggage in her life. What is so beautiful about this simple act of humbly asking for a drink, is Jesus, by initiating the conversation, takes the scandal onto Himself.
Are we willing to humbly approach others, enter into their “scandal” to initiate significant eternal conversation with them?
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” John 4:10
Did you notice the topic Jesus immediately jumps to? Not raising kids or fixing dinner or laundry. Not adultery or immorality. Theology. Living water. It turns out she wasn’t as familiar with the Old Testament prophets as Jesus was so He moves to an object lesson. Through it all, He wants her to understand she is more than her past, her sins, her failures, and her reputation. He, the Messiah, the Holy One of Israel, has come to her personally.
Are we willing to engage others deeply, about things of eternal weight, rather than superficially?
“Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” John 4:29
The revelation of Christ brought the change in the woman’s life. She didn’t have to change first. Her change didn’t bring His revelation. He graciously revealed Himself to her. She is the first person in the gospels to hear Jesus’s plain statement of who He is. The greatest evidence of the change in the woman’s life was that she had to share the news of the encounter.
We have no record of the disciples’ trip into town. Do you suppose any of them started up a conversation with a shopkeeper? “Oh hey. We’re picking up lunch for us and the Son of God. You should come out and meet Him.” After the resurrection, they totally would have.
Are we willing to make sure everyone we know understands that Christ is real because He changed our lives?
Jesus teaches us quite a bit through His conversation with the woman of Sychar. We would do well to respond like she did.