Of all of the “water cooler conversations” we’ve had at work, none have ever resembled the one like Jesus and the Samaritan woman in John 4, have they?
The Samaritans were descendants of Israelites who had intermarried with local, nonJewish people and settled in the region that became known as Samaria. They were rejected by the Jews, both socially and spiritually.
What have we heard about the Samaritan woman? From our modern perspectives, we’ve assumed that she was an immoral woman who’d married and divorced five husbands. At the time she met Jesus, she was living with a sixth man, this time not even bothering to marry him. In order to accurately interpret this passage, we need to reconcile our modern connotations with the cultural realities of first-century living.
Women in the first-century Middle East did not experience the freedom that we women enjoy today. They were legally and socially treated as property with little power. It’s more likely that she had been widowed or divorced her several times. Living without the protection of a man could have been risky, both in terms of physical safety and financial security. Living with a man who was not her husband likely, then, implies that she was either his concubine or second wife in order to avoid poverty.
Looking at the woman through first-century eyes will help us see that her story was one of loss, pain, and shame. Enter Jesus, who broke down barriers to:
- Cross a gender divide—he spoke to a woman while she was alone (John 4:7).
- Cross a social divide—he, a Jewish man, spoke to a Samaritan woman (v. 9).
- Cross a religious divide—he asked for water. The Samaritans were considered unclean. The water that she gave Jesus would have been considered unclean also. Jesus didn’t care (v. 9).
He then engaged this woman in a deep, theological discussion as if she were his equal. This was Jesus’s longest recorded conversation. We should take note of that. Jesus’s longest recorded conversation in the Bible is not with his disciples or with the religious leaders of the day. It is with someone whose gender and religious pedigree counted against her.
This intentional interaction illustrates something powerful and relevant to us. Jesus breaks societal rules and norms, refusing to let cultural constraints deter him from encounters with women who desperately need his presence.
But also consider this: The conversation at the well wasn’t just for this woman’s salvation alone. The encounter with Jesus brought God’s presence to the entire community (v. 29). They initially came because of the Samaritan woman’s testimony, but they stayed because of all the things they heard from Jesus himself.
We’ll explore how God reconciles us to himself first and then uses us to reconcile others to himself later on this week. Our encounter with God is never for our benefit alone. He wants to use our whole story, including the painful and shameful parts, to draw others to himself.