John chapter three ends with an ominous verse, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him”. Then Jesus and his disciples leave the area surrounding Jerusalem to travel back to Galilee. But instead of going the long way around which was customary, John emphasizes that “now He had to go through Samaria”, Jesus was on a mission, prompted by the Holy Spirit, to travel through the land of Samaria, which was hostile towards the Jews. This hostility was reciprocated, the Jews hated the Samaritans and the Samaritans hated the Jews, their hostility was rooted in a political decision 950 years earlier, when the northern tribes refused to submit to Solomon’s heir Rehoboam. In the intervening years the hostilities grew, the north known as Israel set up alternative worship sites, they still worshipped Yahweh, just not in Jerusalem the capital of the southern kingdom Judah. Both Judah and Israel were plagued by evil kings with some faithful kings that would bring them back to faithful worship, but their downward track towards idolatry was persistent and continual. In 722 BC, the northern kingdom of Israel was invaded by Assyria, many people (mostly the upper classes) were carried off as slaves, and then Assyria repopulated the land with people from the pagan nations they conquered. The pagan settlers intermarried with the Israelites and intermingled pagan practices with the worship of the one true God. By the time Jesus arrives at Jacob’s well the hostility and prejudices are great, almost insurmountable except for the Messiah who cuts through the rhetoric to speak the truth in love.
Jesus is left exhausted at the well, when a woman arrives to draw water; we all identify with her in some ways because all of us at some time in life have felt rejected and used by the people we should trust the most. Jesus asks for a cup of water, the woman responds with veiled hostility, because Jews would not touch anything that a Samaritan touched because they were considered unclean. Jesus responds with kindness saying, “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” and “whoever drinks the water I give him will never be thirsty again”. She responds, I’ll take some of that water, then I won’t need to ever come back here to draw water, she misses the spiritual and thinking only of her daily trials. Jesus cuts right through the quick response to say, “Go, call your husband”, then proceeds to tell her knows all about her sad life, her five husbands, her rejections, sins and trials. Surprised that he knows her inner secrets, she calls him a prophet and drags the conversation right back to the hostilities, this time about where and how to worship the LORD. Jesus refuses to be drawn into endless discussion about details that divide, instead he declares that soon you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem, the reveals himself to her as the Messiah.
Meanwhile, the disciples return, they are surprised and confused. Jesus is talking to a Samaritan woman of questionable morals and no longer seems interested in the food that was so important just a short time before. Jesus speaks of food that he eats that they know nothing about; that food is to do the will of God and that it is time to harvest. As the whole town arrives to find out about Jesus, he says, “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest”. Jesus and his disciples stay in the village for two days, many people in the town became believers, they affirmed the rejected woman saying, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves and we know that his man really is the Savior of the world”.
Colossians 1:21-22 is a perfect summary for Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritans,
“You yourselves are a case study of what he does. At one time you all had your backs turned to God, thinking rebellious thoughts of him, giving him trouble every chance you got. But now, by giving himself completely at the Cross, actually dying for you, Christ brought you over to God’s side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence”. (The Message)
This chapter concludes with Jesus’ second sign, they continue their travels to Galilee on their way to Cana again. The crowds gather excited to see Jesus, hoping to see a spectacular miracle, they were not looking for the “Savior of the world” that the Samaritans encountered, they were looking for entertainment. A man approaches, he is an official in Herod Antipas’ household, he has traveled 25 miles to persuade Jesus to come heal his son, he says, “Sir, come down before my child dies”. Jesus simply replies, “You may go, your son will live”. I doubt that the crowds and the disciples even noticed this interchange; they were looking for the spectacular sign, yet Jesus healed with power from a distance, without touching or seeing the boy, the man believed him and turned to go home. As he was walking home his servants met him to report that his son got better at the exact moment that Jesus spoke to the man.
This chapter is one of encouragement to those who are feeling rejected and alone. Jesus saw both the woman and this father, while the town and the crowds would have brushed them aside. Jesus healed both the woman and the son; the woman of her spiritual darkness the boy from sickness. Even though the crowds didn’t acknowledge Jesus, he revealed his majesty to a woman at the well and the Samaritans proclaimed that he was the Savior of the World!