I love the story of the woman at the well in John 4. I’m struck by the humanity of Jesus; he arrives at the well thirsty. I’m struck by the audacity of Jesus; he initiates conversation with this Samaritan woman, an uncouth move for a Jewish rabbi. I’m struck by the transparency of Jesus; he reveals to her his Messianic identity.
The text says Jesus “had to go through Samaria,” (4:4). Why? Jesus decides to leave Judea and head north for Galilee. But any self-respecting Jew would go out of his way to avoid passing through Samaria. For 750 years, the territory of Samaria was considered a dirty, filthy place filled with dirty, filthy people. The Israelites leftover from the Assyrian captivity married with some of the Gentile groups sent to repopulate the territory. These people — “Samaritans” as the Jews derisively referred to them — were considered religious and ethnic half-breeds. And yet, Jesus must go here? The necessity is less geographical than theological.
It is significant that this encounter occurs at noon (the sixth hour). Most women chose to draw their daily water in the cool of the morning. This was communal time, the time to chew the fat with your girlfriends and catch up on all the latest gossip. But not for her. She comes to draw water alone, in the heat of the day. An empty water jug. An empty heart. No doubt her past made her an outcast. 5 failed marriages and a current live-in! She comes to draw water at noon to avoid the judgmental stares. The whispered conversations. This is the kind of woman who walks down the street and mothers pull their daughters close and whisper, “Take a good look, honey. That’s the kind of woman you don’t want to become.” Her journey to draw water is as purposeful as Jesus’ trip to Samaria.
After pinpointing her greatest thirst, she gets defensive by throwing out a theological question: Where is the proper place of worship? Jerusalem? Or Gerazim? As a result of their rejection by the Jews, the Samaritans developed their own version of the Scriptures (the Pentateuch), their own expectation of the Messiah, even their own holy mount of worship. Jesus swats away the theological question. Worship is not about location, it’s about spirit & truth. She replies, “When Messiah comes, he will explain everything to us.” Jesus finally reveals His identity: “I, the one speaking to you — I am he.” (4:26)
The Samaritan expectation of Messiah is an interesting one. They referred to him as the Taheeb, the Reconciler. Imagine you’re a Samaritan. For 750 years, you’ve been told you’re a religious and ethnic half-breed. Sure, you’re a descendant of Abraham, but that’s not enough. You’ve been told you couldn’t worship in Jerusalem. Jews won’t even pass through your territory for fear of defilement. What would that do to your expectation of Messiah? What would you be looking for? The Samaritans longed for the Messiah to come and restore all things. To restore dignity to a group of people. To reconcile God’s people back to Himself.
That’s what the Samaritans were looking for.
In particular, that’s what this woman was looking for.
Someone to respect her personhood.
Someone to restore her dignity.
Someone to reconcile her back to her community.
When Jesus tells her He’s Messiah, He’s not only saying something about His identity as the Anointed One sent by God, He’s also speaking to her expectation.
He’s saying, “I’m the one you’ve been looking for.”
He’s her Messiah.