March 11, 2005

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Jesus in the Gospels: The Samaritan woman

See John 4:4-42

During Jesus’ trip back to Galilee from Judea, he stopped at Jacob’s well in Samaria, located between Judea and Galilee. While his disciples went to buy food, Jesus asked a Samaritan woman at the well for a drink. There followed a remarkable conversation that I don’t have space to repeat but hope you will read.

The inhabitants of Samaria were descended from those Jews who were not deported after Assyria defeated Israel in 722 B.C. They intermarried with people the Assyrians transplanted there from 10 other nations. They were, therefore, a mixed race who were shunned by the pure Jews.

Jesus, a Jew, was defying customs by speaking publicly to a Samaritan, by drinking from something an “unclean” Samaritan woman handled, and by ­carrying on a conversation with a strange woman. They discussed the differences between the Jews, who worshiped in the Temple in Jerusalem, and the Samaritans, who worshiped in a temple they built on Mount Gerizim in the fourth century B.C.

Jesus told the woman that, although salvation is from the Jews, it is not only for the Jews, but for all who adore God. True worshipers, he said, must adore God in Spirit and truth. The Spirit reveals truth and enables one to worship God appropriately.

But the most startling part of the conversation occurred when Jesus said that he was the Messiah. After the woman said, “I know that the Messiah is coming,” Jesus replied, “I am he, the one who is speaking with you.” (This could also be translated “I am,” as God designated himself in the Old Testament.) Jesus had never said that to anyone else. Satan had tried to learn if Jesus was the Messiah but got no answer. Nathanael had said it, but again got no response. When John the Baptist sent disciples to ask if Jesus was the Christ, he didn’t reply directly. But he did make the claim to this Samaritan woman who had had five husbands and was then living with a man not her husband.

When the disciples returned, they were shocked, too. They didn’t know about the five husbands, but were simply amazed that he was talking publicly with a woman. Then, when they urged him to eat the food they had bought, he surprised them again by saying, “I have food to eat of which you do not know” and then clarified that remark by adding, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work.” Obedience to God’s will definitely was always uppermost in Jesus’ mind, but expressing it this way must have really confused the disciples.

Meanwhile, the woman hurried into the city and told her neighbors about the extraordinary man she had met. Many of them came out to see Jesus then invited him to stay with them, which he did for two days. They became Jesus’ first non-Jewish converts, although, since they were “half-Jews,” they were not considered to be Gentiles. Gentile converts would come later. †


Local site Links: