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Through Samaria

• Greg Boyd

In this final installment of the Women on the Outside series, we explore the story of the woman at the well Jesus encountered while traveling through Samaria and how he dives right in to the gender and racial tensions of the first century Jewish culture.

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The story of the woman at the well starts out specifying that Jesus had to go through Samaria. This is an important note of context given the extremely contentious relationship between the Jews and Samaritans. Although the Samaritans were also descendants of Abraham, given their history of intermarrying with the Gentiles and their different theological views, the Jewish people viewed them as unclean half-breeds. It is clear given this context that Jesus’ visit there was intentional.

As His disciples went in to town to get food, Jesus sat down by the well and the interaction with the woman began. This was an extremely scandalous encounter given her ethnicity, gender, and being alone. Jesus ignored these social taboos and dove right in to her life in a way that showed her both his power and grace. Jesus saw her as a woman, not a category fit to be judged. He pierced through the societal ostracism she was likely experiencing that would have forced her to be at the well at noon and rather saw her as a child of His Father that was thirsty for fullness of life. He understood she was searching for fulfillment in the wrong place but never condemned her.

She went off to town and told everyone to “come see a man who told me everything I ever did.” Given her checkered past, the only way this would have been good news that produced the joy in her it did is if she felt completely accepted for who she was with Jesus. He knew everything there was to know about her and that didn’t change His love for her one bit. God isn’t a Pharisee or religious teacher that would use this knowledge to judge and separate her; rather He simply offers living water that brings true fulfillment. You know you’re starting to get the right picture of God when you realize He knows everything about you and it drives you to him filled with joy instead of away feeling shame. Ironically, it’s not trying harder to reject our sinful life that helps us out, but rather learning to known and accepted as we are, and letting the power of that revelation pull us out of a life of sin and darkness and in to the light.

In addition to the grace Jesus shows the woman given her circumstances, the second key point is why Jesus “had” to go through Samaria. It was part of His mission because tearing down walls that separate people is close to the Father’s heart. Jesus constantly confronts the religious and social classes that the Jewish culture put people in to based on their gender, wealth, class, and ethnicity. His mission was to “make the two groups (Jews and Gentiles) one, destroying the walls of hostility” (Eph 2:14) and make clear that “all are one in Christ” (Gal 3:28). This “had to” that Jesus lived in must be a “have to” in our life as well. If we want the Kingdom to come in our life we must be confronting and tearing the down the walls of hostility created by our homogenous leaning culture. We are called to be faithful, not comfortable. We are to be a people in which the reconciliation of all things is a central pillar in our life. The question is, what Samaria is God calling me to go through?

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Topics: Grace, Reconciliation, Role of Women

Sermon Series: Women on the Outside


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Focus Scripture:

  • John 4:4-42

    4 But he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

    7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10 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.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

    16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

    27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” 30 They left the city and were on their way to him.

    31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36 The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

    39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

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3 thoughts on “Through Samaria

  1. Dave Pritchard says:

    This kind of moves off topic a bit but I think it’s definitely worth watching!

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  2. Peter says:

    In recent times a movie metaphor has been used with ‘prequels’ and ‘sequels’ by Greg in relation to peoples’ lives and situations etc,. However, what we can overlook in recent messages are that the works Jesus is undertaking are essentially ‘trailers’ of what is to come. And while ‘trailers’ generally show some of the more exciting scenes from the coming movie, the life stories of the women discussed are no less captivating of what is to/has come, for the lives of the lost.

    While Jesus main mission was to the lost of the house of Israel, we also note from some of the stories extended beyond those borders and was a foretaste of what was to come to the Gentile nations. In those instances, the approach that took place to gain recognition appears to ‘set the bar higher’, but nonetheless, the faith of the believer was rewarded which is probably the demonstration that Jesus was seeking anyway.

    With the most recent message/s one is also reminded of the parable of ‘The Good Samaritan’ in Luke 10:25-37 that further underlines the point that Greg was making,

    “25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
    26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
    27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
    28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
    29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
    30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
    36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
    37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
    Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.””

  3. Todd Schmidt says:

    I’ve been wanting to ask someone literate in Greek for a while about his. So Greg, if you catch this, is it possible that the traditional take on this passage is reading a lot into it? John 4:18 – for you have had 5 husbands and the one you have now is not your husband.

    The traditional view says she was married 5 times and is now living, in sin, with a man to whom she is not married.

    Would a simpler reading be the following? The woman has had 5 husbands, none of them hers. All the husbands of someone else. And the one she is with today, the husband she is with today, is also not her husband. She’s been committing adultery with others’ husbands.

    It seems more likely that a woman of the 1st century would have been with, in the physical sense, five married men, i.e. a prostitute or adulteress, than a woman having had 5 husbands, then living unmarried with #6. I mean if committing adultery was reason to stone someone, how does she live openly with #6?

    Further, if a woman were able to marry 5 times, this would seem to say she’s not an outcast from society. That should immediately tell us something is logically contradictory with the traditional reading.

    Is it possible that a straight forward reading, as I read it, was too base, and the interpretation of the story was changed to make it acceptable in public teaching?

    There’s more. And now I’m really nitpicking, but on this point I think the reasoning is sound.

    The traditional view has the woman laboring in the hot sixth hour noon sun to get water because that’s the only time she could visit the well as an outcast. If she went in the morning or evening when it’s cooler, she would run into others from town. And we also have a weary Jesus, who must have been in incredible shape, stopping for lunch.

    The sixth hour comes up also in John 19:14 – Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, “Behold, your King!”

    If John 19 was on the Jewish clock, where the day runs from roughly 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. (sundown to sunup), then 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. (sunup to sundown), that would mean he was about to be crucified at either just after noon or midnight. But we know from Mark 15:25, Jesus was crucified during the 3rd hour; Mark clearly is using the Jewish time system, meaning Jesus was crucified somewhere between 9 and 10 a.m. (Yes, at some point I went through the entire Gospel examining the Greek word for hour, hōra, and graphing times to see which system was being used. I think Greg can appreciate that. Try it. It’s a fun exercise.)

    I think it’s pretty clear where times can be pinned down, John is using the Roman system of time. It had been a long day. They stopped by the well, but at around 6 p.m., and for dinner. Makes sense. You’ve got a long journey. You’re avoiding towns. You pack enough to get you through to dinner.

    Where people still travel to collect water today, woman and children are usually sent out in the morning. So it’s possible she could have run into others around noon. For a woman on her own walking back from the well after sundown was likely dangerous. Visiting the well at the end of the day could indicate she was avoiding others. Now that might lend itself better to show her as an outcast. Maybe that’s even reading into it. Or possibly, the story as passed down when retold in the early church did portray her as an outcast. We kept the outcast part of the story, but the description as to why she was outcast has changed with retelling.

    One more point. In John 4:9 we read, (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) But we know the disciples are off buying food in the Samaritan city, Sychar. Clearly, commerce between the two existed. Surely, there is a broader context, which would include a Samaritan woman not speaking with a Jewish man alone. But back to the fact that at least commerce between Jews and Samaritans existed, Jesus could have been some traveler who had business in Samaria and had heard of this woman who had 5 husbands and now lived with a 6th. Perceiving him as ‘a prophet’ could have then been sarcasm. Knowing that she was in her 6th illicit relationship would have been jarring, reason enough to change the subject, as she does. But also after further discussion, it offers proof to us and those who listened, that he knows “all the things that (she has) done.”

    She wasn’t punished when she returned to the city and told the men there the story based on a single Samaritan woman and single Jewish man speaking together alone. “Yeah, everyone knows you’ve had 5 husbands” was not the reaction either. Her story was compelling. Jesus had insight into things he couldn’t possibly know.

    And now I’ll read more into the story. What would cause any man in Sychar to travel outside the city to confirm her story. Possibly some of the men she spoke to were of the 6 she had known personally. “He knows everything I have done.” “Everything???” “Everything!”

    Yes, that last part goes beyond what we are told directly. But I think there are good grounds to say the 5 were others’ husbands and that the hour was 6 p.m., not noon. I wonder if someone with an understanding of Greek would agree that this interpretation is possible.

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