We all know the story of the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well. Jesus offered her living water and told her He was the Messiah she and everyone else were waiting for. A quick read of this story confirms Jesus’ love for everyone and His authority as the Messiah. But there’s a bit more to the story than that.
Not only does this passage reinforce who Jesus is, but it also shines some light on how Jesus viewed the culture surrounding Samaritans at the time. Let’s take a closer look at this oft-repeated story to see what else the Bible can tell us.
The Samaritan woman at the well illustrates Christ’s love for the least of these and His perspective on the local culture. Learn more about this beloved story here. #ORBC #biblestudy #devotional Click To Tweet
The Cultural Context
While the Jews and Gentiles lived in drastically different cultures, the Samaritans were stuck in the middle. These people were descended from Israelites who intermarried with Assyrians during one of Israel’s captivities in the Old Testament. Since the Samaritans were neither fully Hebrew nor fully Gentile, neither side fully accepted them. The Samaritans consequently set up their own religious system, with their own temple and their own version of the Jewish Scriptures. The Hebrews considered this sacrilegious and refused to acknowledge the Samaritan system of worship. A Jew traveling near Samaria would even go out of their way to avoid crossing the border into their land. The Samaritans’ “contaminated” bloodline made them unworthy of respect or God’s attention in the eyes of many.
Because Jesus’ ministry was primarily to Israel, the Samaritans as a whole rejected Him as their Messiah. In spite of this, Jesus still reached out to them, showing them the love and grace that the Jewish people failed to provide. This story is an excellent example.
Why Was She Alone?
Samaritans may have been ostracized from Israel, but they were no strangers to ostracizing others themselves. A woman normally wouldn’t approach a well by herself–a whole group of women would usually go to the well together. The exact reason she went alone isn’t completely clear. However, many point to Jesus’ mention of her five previous husbands as evidence of why she was an apparent outcast.
To elaborate further, it’s important to remember that under Hebrew (and Samaritan) law, anyone caught cheating on their spouse would die. This indicates the woman had not cheated on any of her past husbands. It’s also highly unlikely that she divorced them herself, since Hebrew laws regarding divorce tended to favor the husband. With no clear answer as to why she had apparently been married five times, it’s unwise to speculate or label her as promiscuous. It’s just as likely that her husbands divorced her or passed away. Likewise, the man she currently lived with could be a relative, not necessarily a romantic partner. But regardless of the true reason, a woman who had previously been married and then left on her own was viewed as “damaged goods”. Some might even label her as cursed by God or a sinner for what happened to her, regardless of her role in it. This background would absolutely make her an outcast in Samaritan society.
Jesus Reached Out to the Least of These
We already know Jesus came to minister to the least of these and call sinners and outcasts to salvation. There’s almost no better example of this principle than the story of the woman at the well. Not only was Jesus, a Jew, ministering in Samaritan territory, but He was freely speaking with a woman–something most prominent rabbis would not have done. Moreover, the woman he was speaking to was a struggling single woman looked down upon by her own community and the nearby nation of Israel. She was at the very bottom of the social order, yet Jesus showed her respect and love!
Imitating Christ in this Story
We all know we’re called to be like Christ in our words and actions. However, it’s easy to get uncomfortable when we remember that Christ actively reached out to ostracized people and ate with corrupt politicians, irreligious people, and all manner of sinners. As He called people to repentance, He also built relationships with them and treated them with the dignity they deserve. As Christians, we should strive to meet Samaritans at the well and show them God’s love.
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