“7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”” John 4:7-10
So how did your day go after all? Did God show up? Were there seas to cross that turned out to be calmer than you expected? That’s what happened for me, just like we were thinking about last night. God even directed my attention to a daily devotional book of Bible verses this morning, and the passages for today were exactly the same theme as we looked at this morning, promising his presence and help. I was really encouraged. What a great omniscient divinity God is 😉 He’s kind. Those readings got me through the day.
So today we get a clearer picture of what is happening at this well. The shortest road between Jerusalem and Galilee was through Samaria across the rolling hills. It’s lunchtime and Jesus’s disciples take care of their master and head off to buy food; as the disciple of any rabbi would have done. What a familiar image this is. Two thousand years and so much is the same.
But there are some massive cultural differences we need to establish before we can perceive how counter-cultural Jesus’s actions are.
Firstly, the Samaritans were a tribe living alongside, but separate from, Jews. Their bloodline was part Jewish and part gentile. The Jews had been commanded by God centuries earlier to not intermarry, so purity mattered a great deal to Israel. There were also religious differences between the two peoples. Ultimately the Jewish people despised the Samaritans. Rabbis were supposed to keep themselves pure, and would not even think of talking to gentile, Samaritan, woman.
The fact that she is a woman is a bigger deal than you might imagine. The position of women has come a very long way since 1st century Palestine, compared to 21st Century England.
Women’s status in the culture of the day (in Israel and beyond) was as unreliable slaves. They were marginalised at best. Jews taught that they were not to be seen out of the house without two veils; Their vote didn’t count; their testimony was not valid in a court of law. They were not allowed to be taught the Torah (the Jewish religious scriptures, i.e. what Christians know as the first five books of the Old Testament). The first readers of John’s gospel would have the expectation of standard Jewish teaching, that, ‘He who talks with a woman [in public] brings evil upon himself,’ and, “rather should the words of the Torah be burned than entrusted to a woman.” (Rabbi Eliezer). These were not exceptional views for the time by any means. Similar expectations would apply to interaction with a gentile. To Jewish minds, there were spiritual, ceremonial consequences for what Jesus was doing here; speaking to a gentile, speaking directly to a woman, and not even with a chaperone around. Teaching her about God, when no respectable woman would be a disciple, a man’s role.
In Roman (and Greek) culture too, a woman was not to speak in public. Divorce was permitted if the woman went out without a veil.
So we may well imagine the shock on the woman’s face at Jesus asking her for a drink. It’s as if he has no problem talking to her. We can almost hear her head exploding. She boldly asks a question right back, because she is trying to understand how what she has just heard can possibly have just happened.
Jesus isn’t just a counter-cultural spiritual teacher. He takes the opportunity to reveal to her something he has has barely revealed to anyone else, and he initiates a conversation that will end up in extraordinary revelation.
Whatever Christians have made of the status of women in the last two thousand years, Jesus did not differentiate on the basis of gender. He was as interested in revealing the truth to women as he was to men. Because we are about to see that he is not just trying to change social convention. He is suggesting something much more radical. He implies that he can provide a necessity of life more important than water from a well in the middle of a hot day.
And then he acknowledges that she has identified superficial things about the identity of each of them, but if she knew the full story, the one deemed to be thirsty would be her, not him. What kind of thirst is this? More tomorrow.
Notice too that he draws her into the conversation and makes an opportunity for her to ask for more information if she wants. He does not lecture her. He reveals himself to people in natural conversation. I think that’s probably still true today. So often we secretly hope God will just download his truth or guidance to us and then we can get on with our lives. Jesus seems to value dialogue very highly.