There was once a somewhat bold and saucy Samaritan woman who lived on the outer edges of social convention. As a result, perhaps, she went to the well at midday to draw water and ran into a strange man, resulting in one of the most surprising conversations in history… John puts it like this:
“Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?” Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” (John 4:27-29 NIV)
More Unusual Than You Think
Why does John point out that the disciples were so surprised? Today, it may be common for conversations to occur like that. But Jesus’ conversation with the woman by the well in Samaria is one of his most interesting and intriguing encounters in history. It is a passage full of surprises.
By even having this conversation, Jesus breaks all kinds of social barriers and engages in a conversation that ends up changing the lives of an entire village. Because Samaria was considered apostate, devout Jews would often journey far out of their way to avoid going through there. Jesus intentionally walked through Samaria and even stopped to rest. Stepping outside of accepted social convention, he talked to a (socially) lowly woman, which was forbidden for a Rabbi. Not only that, but she was a SAMARITAN woman.
To top it all off, the woman had a morally questionable background (which apparently Jesus already knew), because she had had several husbands and was living with a man who was not her husband. (Not too unusual to folks today, but certainly a big deal in that culture and at that time…) She went out to the well at midday rather than in the morning (ostensibly to avoid the other women who would be getting water); so, the inference is that she was probably not very popular with other women in the village.
But the Thing That REALLY Stands Out…
The disciples were surprised to find Jesus talking to this woman for all of these reasons. And in the aftermath of the conversation, there is an additional surprising and interesting detail in these verses that I had never noticed before; did you catch it? The woman left her water jar! She was so excited about her conversation with Jesus that she totally forgot why she had gone to the well in the first place.
In America we take drinkable water for granted, but people value it greatly where it is scarce. Water is incredibly important in the trans-Jordan area, and water jars aren’t cheap, so it is not surprising that she was going to the well. But, she was so motivated by her conversation with Jesus that she just took off for the village and left it all behind.
When Jesus talked with the Samaritan woman, He crossed cultural boundaries and broke down social barriers. He surprised her by knowing details about her life, things for which she had been judged and scorned; yet he showed her no condescension or scorn. She responded to this remarkable man not only because of what he told her, but HOW he told her as well.
On that fateful afternoon, she couldn’t help it– she left everything, went back to her village and told everyone what she had discovered about this man! Yeah, the disciples were surprised to find him talking to a woman; but the woman was surprised even more. She snuck out to the well at midday to avoid judgment and awkward conversations, and was instead surprised by wisdom, acceptance, and love. If you have been avoiding God because of guilt or judgment, have your own conversation with Jesus. He might just surprise you, too.
The Woman at the Well
The scarlet woman snuck out to the well,
Because the other women put her down;
They’d all decided she was going to hell,
And no one even wanted her around;
Until a stranger asked her for a drink,
And told her every thing she’d ever done;
Surprised, she didn’t know just what to think,
But wondered, somehow, if he was the One…
He wasn’t prejudiced like all the rest,
And she could only look at him and nod;
He seemed to call her out to be her best,
And introduced her to the Living God.
You and I have both been there,
Struck by hatred, hopelessness and lies;
Until we looked and found an answered prayer–
Until we looked in Jesus’ eyes.
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