Breaking Taboos

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 to 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…  John 4:1-26

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

I’ve heard and read many reasons for Jesus avoiding the Pharisees early in His ministry.  The explanation which makes the most sense was He needed to avoid the leaders for a time to build up the ministry itself so that when He began to confront them, His body of work would speak for itself and they would have to search for reasons to hate Him, which they did.  Jesus knew the need for restraint and timing.  If He peaked too soon, He wouldn’t accomplish the things we read about, the leaders could write Him off as a flash in the pan, and the crucifixion story might have happened another way.

Jesus understood timing and waited on God’s will to fulfill all righteousness.  The OT were, in many ways, written down for sole purpose of guiding Jesus while He lived on earth.  In other words, Jesus inspired the prophets and writers to record stories and predictions which would lead Him through His earthly mission.  I think this is one of the reasons why we don’t get it at times.  The language God set in a code His Son could understand—and we can too if we conform to the mind of Christ—in order that He could fulfill all righteousness.

So He’s sat a Jacob’s well in Samaria (a point in itself which irritated a good Jew because Jacob was their ancestor not these half-breed heathen Gentile-Jew wannabes) while the disciples went for food.  Traveling by foot everywhere is tiring work and probably built up a good thirst in everyone.  It should have been about mid-day so the sun would have been beating down on them pretty hard.

Women went to the well in the early morning or late afternoon or early evening to get water.  Only those who were outcasts from proper society came at odd hours to avoid the sniping comments or resentful looks of the “upright” citizens.  I don’t know what Jesus did between her arrival and the time He spoke to her, but I can guess He watched her sereptitously, observing her face, praying about what to say and how to begin the conversation.  I doubt He knew exactly what to do at first–unless His prayer time the night before revealed this situation–because He subjected His Godhood to human form and limitations.  His only source for knowing what needed to be said or done was His Father directing Him.  (Later we’ll learn why this is true because John A specifically addresses it.)

“Will you give me a drink?” Jesus asked the woman.  No preamble, no greeting and nothing to set the situation up.

Surprised He had spoken, she thought somehow this must be a trap to humiliate her or something.  Have you ever noticed that the outcasts of society always look for an offense from others?  In this instance she was correct in being suspicious because this Jew came from a line of people who had ostracized her people for centuries and fought wars with them.  Jews spit on the ground when a Samaritan passed by.  Jews hated Samaritans using any and every situation to humiliate them.  So this Jewish Rabbi (one could tell by the prayer shawl a rabbi wore) had to be setting her up.  So she answered in the only way possible as if His asking were a test, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman.  How can you ask me for a drink?”  A woman alone out near the town well meant she was open to being abused verbally or worse by anyone.  A man being at the well at midday probably scared her too because she would be extremely vulnerable.

Notice she put both gias into the prohibition for them to dialogue at all.  Traditionally, in a Jew’s view, anything she drew out would have been spiritually unclean, therefore undrinkable anyway.  So she reminded Him of this and probably tried to turn away.  I need to point out something here again:  She came in the middle of the day.  Jesus and any good man would know why–O, may be not the specifics but they would guess her reasons were pretty much centered around some kind of social ill and probably sexual in nature.  Anyone want to bet that her heart sank when Jesus spoke to her?  She knew He probably had put two and two together to come up with four and intended on putting the two of them together where no one would notice.

Jesus spoke again,blowing her efforts to dismiss the conversation. “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.”

She siezed on the opportunity to distract Him with a religious argument.  Notice in the dialogue she actually needles Jesus a bit with a disputed heritage:

“Sir,” the woman said, “You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep.  Where can you get this living water?  Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?” 

She had Him up against the ropes!  No good Jew would let this pass.  She had called Jacob the father of the Samaritans and suggested they owned it by right of heritage.  Then she also had the audacity to refuse His request by asking Him a question about whether He could miraculously draw out the water He suggested from the well without her having anything to do it with.  This indicates there was no rope or bucket for public convenience but each brought their own. Jesus was at her mercy in a small thirsty way.  A woman had to work with anything to gain the upper hand where men were concerned.  She was an adulteress, most likely, or she wouldn’t be an outcast.  She probably also tended to flirt with men–and I wouldn’t doubt she was baiting Jesus a bit right now with banter in either hopes He would be distracted enough not to rape her, to goad Him into sex or something else.  Women who live with the sex banter of men learn to flirt as a method of defense sometimes until they can get away from them.

Jesus took the bait in the oddest way,  “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thrist.  Indeed the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

No sexual overtones here.  Jesus spoke as one teaching in the synagogue.  He made no referrence to her at all but spoke in the religious language of the day to direct her to what He wanted to say.  In fact, He offered her something without insisting on anything in return.

Intrigued, she asked (may be half sincerely by now), “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Bonhoffer suggest Jesus might have looked like humanity, but the moment He opened His mouth He revealed His divinity in a small measure.  I think the light was beginning to dawn on her that this man was seriously offering something good, pure and wholesome.  Her abused psyche didn’t know how to handle it but she ached for a time when she wouldn’t have to live with her disgrace and never have to show her status by coming here during the middle of the day again.

Then Jesus asked her to go do something she absolutely couldn’t provide. “Go, call your husband and come back.”  He told her.  It was improper in their culture for man to speak to another man’s woman alone.  Her heart sank. This rabbi guessed her secret and wanted to humiliate her this way instead of the obvious.  Hope washed away in dispair and she must have hesitated before answering, “I….I have no husband.”  Whether she felt shame or not is not recorded but her words show she was caught out and didn’t know what to do, though she didn’t give away the whole truth.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say have no husband.  The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.  What you have just said is quite true.”  Six men!  In that society she must have been desired by other men but a threat to women.  Jesus lays the truth out on the line.  She knows He doesn’t know her but here He is just quoting her history like He’s been around the region for years.  Her mind reels and she desparately tries to redirect Him to an argument, anything just to get Him off the subject of her public shame.  She tries flattery, every man loves flattery.

“Sir,” the woman said,  “I can see that you are a prophet.  Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

Whew!  He won’t like that one, she must have thought.

Jesus grew amused and probably full of compassion at her futile attempt to escape His love and forgiveness.  She didn’t know that was His intention, but like a good fisherman He reeled her in and played the line out to allow her time to fight for herself, yet also to grab her interest all the more.

Do you see the method Jesus uses here to reach the hardened heart?  This woman, by our standards, was unreachable yet our Master reeled her in without firing a shot.  Sure, He scared the wits out of her by revealing her secret, but they were alone, since the disciples had conveniently gone away to buy food, something I don’t think was an accident either.  Jesus came to seek and save that which was lost.  Those who thought of themselves as righteous refused His efforts because they felt no need of His salvation.  This woman and others like her, however, longed for Him to save them.

The sheer wisdom in His method of reaching into this hardened heart should educate us in our own efforts.  Jesus could have debated theology, lineage and bunch of other issues which have continued to be problems to modern times, but He didn’t.  Instead He led her to a place where He could fill her life with forgiveness, joy and a sense of well-being.  For someone tired, hungry and thirsty from a hard day of travelling, He sure acted funny.


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2 Responses to “Breaking Taboos”

  1. tlc4women Says:

    This is my favorite story in the bible. Well, one of anyway. Not only did she respond with hope, she left her jar. She so believed him that she would never thirst again, she so never wanted to come back to the ridicule of the well that she left her jar. How many of us would have that amount of faith after being so hurt by man. When she met the real deal, she recognized it! Oh Lord, thanks for showing yourself to us in such a way that we are able to quickly see who you are and to trust you so completely. I want to have as much faith as the Samaritan women who rushed back to her village and didn’t care what people thought. But wait, I’m getting ahead of the story. I look forward to your next post.

  2. jonnysoundsketch2 Says:


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