Jesus and the Samaritan Woman (1)
Text: John 4:1-45
Jesus’ theology was misinterpreted or not understood, bringing many conflicts between the Jewish Rabbis and Jesus Christ. His core theology is hinged on peace, justice, and holiness. Samaritans are mixed races and mixed cultures. After the northern kingdom, with its capital in Samaria, fell to the Assyrians, many Jews were deported to Assyria, and foreigners were in to settle in Jews’ land and to keep the peace. (2 Kings 17:24). The intermarriage between the foreigners and remaining Jews resulted in a mixed-race, impure, in the opinion of Jews who lived in the southern kingdom. The Jews did everything they could to avoid traveling through Samaria. Jesus did not live through those cultural restrictions. The route through Samaria was shorter, so he took it. The Jews hold in contempt the Samaritans. Samaritans are despised groups because they are half-Jews. The Jews believe they are the only righteous group in the world. The Jews also hold that a woman might be divorced twice or, at the most, three times; one is not sure if the Samaritans hold this same standard. There are cultural, racial, and religious differences between the Jews and the Samaritans.
The Samaritan woman’s issues are:
- a member of the hated mixed-race
- known to be living in sin
- Presence in a public place (the Well)
- And with five husbands, the life of the Samaritan woman at the Well has been exceedingly immoral and decadent.
Therefore, no respectable Jewish man will talk to such a woman under those circumstances, but Jesus did.
- What is the Dialogue in John 4: 1-45 concerning Broken Barriers and Conflict Resolution?
- What did Jesus mean by “Living Water”?
- Which is more important, the location or mode of worship?
The Dialogue – Jesus and the Samaritan Woman
Jesus was gender-friendly and associated with sinners, tax collectors, and the marginalized in society. His action was a departure from the ‘so-called’ pious Jew’s behavior, especially the Pharisees. Still, in doing this, Jesus showed a great example of unifying people, reconciling ethnoreligious, and eliminating barriers.
The Samaritan woman raised two questions with Jesus:
- why is he speaking with a Samaritan, and
- why is he speaking with a Samaritan woman?
Jews and Samaritans were bitter enemies (Jn 4:9), and any interaction between the two groups would be heavily charged by the geographic, ethnic, and religious barriers that divided them. It would be naive to think that the relationship between Jews and Samaritans was one of polite disagreement. The Samaritan experience was oppression by the Jews, marked by discrimination and violence against their people.
Jewish rabbinic laws were stringent on two critical matters:
- Jewish men were not to have public and open contact with women, and
- Jewish rabbis considered Samaritan women to be “menstruants from their cradle” and therefore perpetually unclean.
Jewish rabbis condemned all Samaritans to be tainted by that same standard because men were in contact with impure women, and their “purity rules could not be guaranteed.” “He who talks much with womankind brings evil on himself. He neglects the study of the Law and, at last, will inherit Gehenna.” If speaking with a woman can cast one into Gehenna, how much more will be drinking from the same cup? According to Jewish rules, “The spittle of a menstruant was contaminating to a very high degree.” So, in John 4:1–42, Jesus is doing much more than asking for a glass of water from a stranger — He is boldly breaking Jewish taboos with a purpose. As theologian David Daube articulates, “By asking the woman to give him to drink, Jesus showed himself ready to disregard that hostile presumption respecting Samaritan women.
The dialogue between Jesus and the Samaritan woman is one of the acceptable models for breaking barriers or resolving conflicts. This kind of exchange is based on mutual respect, trust, understanding, and acceptance of the parties involved in the dialogue. In John 4:5-29, Jesus sets an example by initiating a conversation with a marginalized, persecuted, discriminated, despised, rejected, unloved, and a non-person in the eyes of the Jews (v.9); and a woman of different ethnic background. Jesus did not allow over 400 years of hate [i] to put a barrier between him and the Samaritan woman. Jesus – Samaritan woman’s model can be viewed in our present society engulfed in confrontations due to ethnic, religious, and political hostilities. Jesus bridged the dividing line of hostilities and broke down the wall of prejudices that separated the Jews and the Samaritans. He did this by asking the woman to give him a drink – hospitality (v.7). The prejudices of sex and nation were broken down by this first teaching beyond the limit of the chosen people[ii]. It was unthinkable for a Jew to talk to a Samaritan, let alone a woman, as exhibited in the disciples’ reaction when they saw Jesus. In this particular encounter, Jesus’ Jewish’ origin is essential for developing this dialogue[iii]. Jesus led the woman to a deeper level of understanding by using her past, feelings, and psychological thoughts to win her over.
The purpose and context of this dialogue were summed up in v.10, “the giver of life and the Savior of the world” [iv]. Jesus’ foreknowledge manifested profound thoughts in the woman. Kinast said in dialogue that “honesty, respect, and willingness to share one’s views relying on the intrinsic value” [v]. The message of Jesus envisages the possibility of going beyond all people-made boundaries and acknowledging a metaphysical reality of communion in which all people are children of God, the same Father, and our brothers and sisters among themselves. [vi] Jesus broke down the walls of religious and social separation between the Jews and Samaritans, setting an example for reconciliation in modern-day ethnoreligious barriers and conflicts.
The divine knowledge of Jesus Christ in the Samaritan woman’s private life confirmed Him as the expected Messiah, which she shared with others. Hendrickx[vii] asserted that the universality of Christ’s mission was revealed in the Samaritan woman. Jesus accepted the outcasts and the marginalized people.
- [i] Frederick, Herzog, Liberation Theology: Liberation in the light of the fourth Gospel, (New York: the Seabury Press, 1972), 72.
- [ii] B. T., Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: W. B. Eerdmans
- Publishing Company, 1976)
- [iii] Francis J., Moloney, Belief in the World, Reading the Fourth Gospel: John 1-4 (Minneapolis:
- Minnesota, Fortress Press, 1995), 139.
- [iv] Peter F., Ellis, The Genius of John: A composition-critical commentary of the fourth Gospel
- (Collegeville, Minnesota, The Liturgical Press, 1984), 72.
- [v] Robert L., Kinast, If only you recognized God’s Gift: John’s Gospel as an illustration of Theological
- Reflection, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993), 68.
- [vi] Lucius, Nerepambil, “Jesus and the Nations,” Jeevadhara 14/80, 1984, 147.
- [vii] Herman, Hendrickx, The Fourth Gospel, (Manila, Phil. 198), 140.