Week 4 – John 4:1-30
You’ve probably already heard about the deep-seated racial tension that existed between Samaritans and Jews during the New Testament era. Grasping Jewish disdain for Samaritans in the first century is crucial to understanding Jesus’ interaction with the woman at the well, so it deserves more than a cursory look. Here’s a good overview of the bad blood between Jews and Samaritans: https://www.bibleodyssey.org/en/people/related-articles/samaritans
John 4 even explains this tension and the surprising nature of Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well. v.9 points out that “Jews have no dealings with Samaritans,” and the woman herself says, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” The woman is amazed, and probably quite wary, of such a request. But she doesn’t know that this kind of thing is characteristic of Jesus’ ministry. He was constantly talking to whom he shouldn’t and welcoming social rejects.
There’s a lot to the conversation in this passage. Jesus reveals that the woman has had multiple husbands and is currently living with a man who isn’t one of them. Many differing conclusions have been drawn about this particular facet of her life. With different social norms, abrupt divorces (Matt. 19:7), and short life spans in this era, it’s hard to tell whether the woman was using her body to meet her needs, being mistreated by a male-dominated society, or just had a rough life that resulted in her seeking comfort in brokenness. Whatever the case, Jesus draws out this specific element of the woman’s story to show that he welcomes her in spite of her guilt, shame, and disobedience.
Jesus and the woman also cover the central theological difference between Judaism and Samaritanism, disagreements over the proper location for worship (Jews said Jerusalem, Samaritans said Mount Gerizim, what the woman calls “this mountain” in v.20). Jesus uses this to introduce the way in which his followers will worship God: in spirit and in truth. Worship is being opened up from sacrifices at a specific site to the inward and outward life of believers because the Spirit of God is moving from the Holy of Holies in the Temple into the hearts of believers. He’s telling the woman, “Now you are far off, but God is making a way for you to come close to him.” We can see why this moves the woman, why she forgets her water jar and runs into the town to tell everyone about Jesus, because she has found welcome where she thought there could be none. This is exactly the same way Jesus receives us.
Questions for Discussion
• Could someone read John 4:1-30?
• What stood out to you?
• How would you characterize Jesus’ conversation with this woman?
• Look at verse 9. How do you think racial tension plays into the story here?
• What role does worship seem to play in their conversation?
• Why do you think the woman’s first response was to go tell her town?
• What can this passage tell us about the way Jesus interacts with us?