Outcast of Outcasts

Now He had to go through Samaria.  So He came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given his son Joseph.  Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as He was from the journey, sat down by the well.  It was about the sixth hour.

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her,  “Will you give me a drink?”  (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

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.)  John 4: 4-9.

If you look at an NIV Bible, you will see a little note on the last sentence down at the bottom of the page which reads a different, more literal translation of it:  (Jews) do not use dishes Samaritans have used.)  It clarifies the text a bit.

If we go back into the history of the hatred between Jew and Samaritan, we learn that on the Jews return from Babylon the Samaritans did their level best to discourage the building of the city walls around Jerusalem.  They used trickery, tried force and started whisper campaigns to stop any progress.  The other reason these people were despised by the Jews was they were mixed races, part Jewish, part whatever Babylon left there to settle the area.

To get a clear idea of what the situation was in Christ’s day and age, we must see the Samaritans as scorned by the Jews for worshiping on Mt Garizim since it wasn’t the site of Solomon’s temple.  Next, they mixed idolatry many times with the worship of God.  This wasn’t overt all the time but it was tolerated,  plus they had magicians, soothsayers and a host of other occult practices.  To the Jew the Samaritan was the worst of the worst, they had Jewish heritage but had fallen from the beliefs so far, which made them not quite Gentiles but unclean none the less, therefore impure blood.

Jesus spoke to a person His disciples and most of Israel would have seen first as unclean because of her nationality, then because she was a woman, next because she was not married to the man she lived with at the time, lastly because she had been married five times already.  We don’t relate as much to the system of outcasts the world held to at the time, so when we read that Jesus spoke to a Samaritan woman, it doesn’t register why it was a big deal.  Jesus knew that her reasons for coming to the well at noon (that’s what the sixth hour means) couldn’t be good for most drew water during the morning or evening.  She also came alone which spoke volumes about how the women of the town looked at her.

Let’s recap:  She was born into a nation which the Jews considered cursed by God.  They wouldn’t even touch a dish that these people used and wouldn’t have wasted their time speaking to them, let alone asking them for a drink.

Jesus, in one smooth action, broke all the taboos by talking not only to a Samaritan woman but one who was divorced five times and living in sin.  Does this mean He approved of her lifestyle?  No, because later He points out what she’s doing as sin, though without any condemnation attached.  He includes her in the world and gives her value by speaking to her.

What went through her mind?

If you’re a woman, what would go through your mind if a strange man spoke to you in a friendly way?  Now place yourself in her mindset of either being unfaithful to her past husbands or some such thing, being either used by men or a man eater, then see her opinion of Jesus through her skewed perspective.  She thought He wanted something from her besides a drink of water, for a Jew would not ask for anything from a Samaritan even if they were dying, so His request suggested something else to her.  I can’t say for sure what it really was, but I know she went on the defensive right away.

In some ways, I would think there would be some amusement in her reply.  The reason I say this is due to what she chose to say,  “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman.  How can you ask me for a drink?”  She thought there was another reason behind such a request and set out to find what it was.  Jesus, on the other hand, wasn’t put off by her defensiveness nor attracted by her challenge.  Most Jews wouldn’t have spoken to her, yet if they had asked for water in that isolated place and been questioned, they probably would have beaten her and taken her water jar.

I think Jesus might have been amused at her attempt to throw Him off, but serious about her heart condition to draw her into a conversation.  That’s His way, you know, to draw us into a dialogue which helps us grapple with our questions and His answers.  Yet He also goes out of His way to meet the outcasts.  This woman was the outcast of the outcasts, the cursed of the cursed, so far below the norm of society that she was barely one rung above a whore.

Jesus drew her into a conversation.

We know kind of who she was by the evidence available, but what does this say about Jesus?  He went out of His way to reach out to the worst of the worst.  He was a village rabbi, recognized as such from the prayer shawl they all wore as a badge of office so Jews would now something about what He did at home.  The fact that He was asked to read Scripture in the synagogue suggests His status as a visiting rabbi as well.

So, we have a Jewish man who is also a recognized rabbi and teacher speaking to a woman who is considered by the rest of His countrymen to be horse dung and something to be stepped on–not even someone.

Have you got the picture fixed in your mind now?

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One Response to “Outcast of Outcasts”

  1. Breaking Taboos « Jonny’s Habit Says:

    […] (I wrote a devotional on this chapter once before, which you can read here.) […]

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