Reading the Bible is one thing but studying the Bible in depth with both interest and patience is infinitely more rewarding. Even for those who might not believe that the Bible is the inspired work of the Holy Spirit it has been proven through the fields of archeology, anthropology, and historical linguistics to be a remarkably consistent record of the moral, social, and political history of both the Middle East and the West. There have been numerous theatrical and literary works, musicals, and movies based on the Bible including such stories as that of Noah and the Ark, Moses, the Nativity and the Passion of Christ, etc. However, there are many more stories of lesser scope but nevertheless interesting and informative once one digs a little deeper and fills in some of the finer details regarding local customs and related scriptures. A case in point is the Samaritan woman at the well.
After Our Lord had driven the money changers from the temple and performed miracles in Jerusalem and after He had his conversation with the Pharisee Nicodemus, we find Him in John 4:3, leaving Judea and on His way to Galilee, going there by way of Samaria. This was significant in itself because the usual route of the Jews going from Judea in the South to Galilee in the North was through Perea which was the portion of the kingdom of Herod the Great. Perea occupied the eastern side of the Jordan River valley, from about one third of the way down from the Sea of Galilee to about one third the way down the eastern shore of the Dead Sea. To go to from Jerusalem to Galilee a Jewish traveler would take a long swing to the right to detour around Samaria and avoid contact with the Samaritans. However, in John 4:4 it tells us “And it was necessary that he go through Samaria.” Why? Because the Jews and the Samaritans were of the same religious ancestral stock and therefore Jesus considered the Samaritans part of the same flock. The two groups were separated only by religious dogma about which both parties were very stubborn.
Between Judea and Galilee There is a section of land that was inhabited by a people who were formed by a combination of Jews and Assyrians who are called Samaritans. We won't delve into the details here regarding the events that formed the combination because that is a long story by itself. In short, the Samaritans believe that their religion is the true religion of the ancient Israelites from before the Babylonian captivity of the Jews. The major disagreement between the Jews and the Samaritans is that the Samaritans claim that Mount Gerizim is the original holy place of of Israel and the Jews believe that the holy place is the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. There remain some Samaritans to this day although their numbers have been greatly diminished. Mount Gerizim continues to be the center of the Samaritan religion and there are still Samaritans living in the city of Kiryat Luza near Mount Gerizim.
So, as Saint John tells us in John 4:5, Jesus came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph (of the many colored coat). Sychar was about a half mile north of the well that according to two thousand years of tradition the Patriarch Jacob had dug. Joseph's tomb is located nearby and there is little doubt that it is indeed the tomb of Joseph. The Old Testament is silent as to when or why Jacob dug this well, but Jewish, Samaritan, Christian, and Muslim traditions all associate the well with Jacob. It is one of the few biblical sites about which there is no dispute. When Jesus reached Sychar he was weary from the journey, he sat down beside the well about noon to rest while his disciples went looking for something to eat. A Samaritan woman came to the well with a jar to get some water, so Jesus asked her for some water to drink. To the woman it was obvious that He was a Jew and she was astonished that a Jew would ask a Samaritan woman for a drink for Samaritans had absolutely nothing to do with Jews and vice versa. She said to Him:
“How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?”
Note that she addressed Him as “a Jew”.
Jesus said to 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.”
The woman said to Him:
“Sir, you have nothing to draw water with and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?”
Note that this time she did not address Him as “a Jew” but as “Sir.”
Then the woman went on to say:
“Are you a greater man than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself as did his sons and his livestock.”
Note that now she refers to Jesus as a “Man.”
Then Jesus said to her:
“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The Samaritan woman replied:
“Sir, give me this water so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
At this point Jesus began to draw the truth from this woman. In the first place it was very unusual for a woman to be fetching water alone, unescorted. For another thing it was unusual that she was fetching water in the heat of the noonday sun. The women normally would go to the well in a group for the sake of modesty and security and also to avid the heat of the day. Perhaps this woman was not welcome in their company. Jesus tested her. He said to her:
“Go, call your husband and come here.”
The woman answered him:
“I have no husband.”
Jesus said to her:
“You are right in saying, 'I have no husband,' for you have had five husbands and the one that you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.”
She said to Jesus:
“Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where we ought to worship.”
Note that as the woman replied to Jesus she adds “Prophet” to the list of names that she had previously used, namely a “Jew”, a “Man”, and “Sir”. Furthermore, as she was using flattery by the suggestion that He is a prophet, she also tried to change the subject. Jesus understood that she was trying to divert His attention away from her sins. He said:
“Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him. God is spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
The woman said to Jesus:
“I know that the Messiah is coming, He who is called the Christ. When He comes He will tell us all things.”
“I who speak to you am He.”
Just then His disciples came back. They marveled that He had been speaking to a woman but they didn't say anything. The woman ran home and said to the townspeople:
“Come and see a man that told me my past. Can this be the Christ?”
The people ran out of the town to seek Him. In the meantime His disciples were urging Him to eat. They said to Him: “Rabbi, eat,” but Jesus told them that His food was to do the will of He who had sent Him and to accomplish His work. As a result of this encounter, many Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of the woman's testimony and they asked Jesus to stay for a few days which He did. The people told the woman:
“It is no longer because of what you told us that we believe for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the World.”
This story illustrates the progression of a soul upon the realization that Jesus Christ is Our Lord and Savior. At first Jesus was to the woman merely a “Jew”, then “Sir”, then a “Man”, then a “Prophet”, then “the Messiah”, “the Christ”, and finally, the “Savior of the World.” It also illustrates that the only thing required of a soul to begin the process of conversion to Christianity is faith in God Almighty, the Creator of Heaven and Earth. The Holy Spirit will guide the soul to God through Jesus Christ.
A final word. In this story there is no physical miracle, there was no curing of sickness, no making the blind to see, or the raising of the dead. The wonder that was wrought was the cleansing of sin from a repentant soul. The cross was not mentioned but the Savior was, and the Samaritan woman who was at first suspicious and doubtful was brought from being a creature of God to being a child of God. From sinner to saved, she blossomed like a rose to become one of the first evangelists.
(NoteThe idea behind this story came from both the Gospel of John and also from a wonderful book called “The Life of Christ” by Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. I highly recommend his book.)
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