March 12, 2017

Christ and the Samaritan Woman: John 4:5-42

Christ and the Samaritan Woman

To understand how Christ’s encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well portrayed in John’s Gospel was remarkable, we should first understand the Samaritan people and why they were so reviled. The Samaritans were a mixed population who worshipped God differently from the Jews. While they worshipped the one true God, they only held the first five Books of Moses to be Sacred Scripture; rejecting the rest of the Jewish testament. Also, they worshipped on Mount Gerizium in the Palestinian West Bank, not at the Temple in Jerusalem.

The Jews of Jesus’ time despised the Samaritans as heretics who defiled God’s words as spoken through his prophets. Even talking with a Samaritan would taint a self-respecting Jew, rendering him ritually unclean. The fact that Christ treated Samaritans like human beings was considered scandalous.

The Samaritan woman was clearly a social outcast. Typically, women in first century Palestine gathered at the well in the morning to avoid the searing heat of the midday sun. The primary reason was to collect water for their families’ domestic needs. Additionally, it was one of the few opportunities where women could gather in public to gossip, engage in conversation and socialize. On top of her ethnic affiliation, the Samaritan woman was living with a man out of wedlock. Moreover, Christ reveals the woman had five husbands. But why was she there?

The Samaritan women was drawing water at noon (instead of the morning) to avoid the scornful stares and ridicule of the woman in her village to whom she was a hated low life of illicit virtue. She came at midday to avoid humiliation.

Lastly, it was a severe breach of protocol for men to engage women in extended conversation. Christ does not merely exchange pleasantries with the woman, or demand water from her condescendingly. Instead, he speaks to her respectfully. John’s account notes the disciples’ surprise: "At that moment his disciples returned, and were amazed that he was talking with a woman, but still no one said, 'What are you looking for?' or 'Why are you talking with her?'" (John 4:27)

In the mind of the Samaritan women, her understanding of Jesus continued to change from Jew, to human, to prophet to Messiah. Following her encounter with Jesus, this woman who lived in shame, ostracized because of her past sins, now proclaimed the love of Christ to the world with joy. May it be so for us today.

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