In the first century, Jews looked down on Samaritans. Centuries ago, the Assyrians had taken the ten tribes of the northern kingdom (Israel) into exile, replacing them with foreigners (2 Kings 17:24-31). These later intermarried with the remaining Jews, giving rise to the Samaritans, seen as half-breeds. Because of her past, this Samaritan woman was considered an outsider, even to her own people.
Here we see that Jesus is for all people. He came to search for the lost. Notice how He initiates the conversation, ″Will you give me a drink?″ (v. 7). He offers her living water (v. 10) and, at her misunderstanding, explains that His gift is a never-ending spring (v. 14). Jesus diagnoses her problem (vv. 16-18): she is thirsty, but it will not be quenched by multiple marriages.
The woman is theologically aware and seeks to side-track Jesus by talk of the relative merits of Mount Gerizim and Mount Zion, places of worship for Samaritans and Jews respectively. But Jesus persistently cuts deeper: the ″who″ and ″how″ of worship is more important than the ″where″ (vv. 21-24). She mentions the expected Messiah. Jesus responds: ″I am he″ (v. 26). New Testament professor D. A. Carson notes that this response is ″theologically loaded″.2 The divine is present. To worship God is to meet Him in His true temple, Jesus Christ, and receive His Spirit through the work of Jesus.
The woman becomes the messenger to her village, where she was well known. The villagers believe, not just because of the woman’s testimony, but having heard Jesus for themselves, they believe that He is the Saviour of the world (v. 42). This is the beginning of a rich harvest. Philip (in Acts 8:4-8) will reap a rich harvest in these parts as well.
There is a developing conviction in this chapter:
- Verse 11: ″Sir″, in the sense of respect
- Verse 15: ″Sir″; verse 19: ″Sir . . . I can see that you are a prophet″
- Verse 25: ″I know that Messiah is coming.″
- Verse 29: ″Could this be the Messiah?″
- Verse 42: ″. . . the Saviour of the world″
- Jesus is the first to present the gospel in a cross-cultural context. Note the contrasts between John 3 and 4:
- Nicodemus is a man; she a woman
- Nicodemus is named; she is left unnamed
- Nicodemus is a Jew; she a half-Jew
- Nicodemus knows about Jesus; Jesus is a total stranger to her
- Both have an identity to protect, but Nicodemus comes at night; she at midday
- Nicodemus approaches Jesus; Jesus approaches her
- Jesus comes to His own, but is rejected; Jesus comes to outcasts and is welcomed to stay two days with them (v. 40)
Grace initiates, grace offers, grace persists. His mission to do His Father’s will is Jesus’ bread and butter (v. 34).
2D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1991).
Consider your own salvation story. How did God meet you where you are?
How might the extravagant grace (free, unmerited favour) of God affect your reaching out to others, including the ″Samaritans″ in your life?
List their names down and commit them to the Lord in prayer.