Reaching Out – A Commentary on The Woman at The Well
Posted on February 22nd, 2009
The story of the woman at the well fascinates me for many reasons. I gain insight into the way Christians are supposed to act through the way Jesus presented the gospel to the woman at the well, the history behind Him being in a Samaritan city and primarily the amazing radical behavior that Jesus showed towards this undeserving woman.
The story doesn’t seem very exciting, but with a little knowledge of the culture, a whole new aspect of the woman at the well is unlocked. You see, Jews and Samaritans were bitter enemies. It wasn’t a little quarrel, it was a full-fledged undeclared war! The story of “the good Samaritan” seems to be the symbol of an amazing relationship between the two nations but actually the whole point of the story was to illustrate how revolutionary the Christian faith was. The Jews often skirted miles around Samaritan villages just to reach Jerusalem. However, in John 4: 4 Jesus chose to travel through Samaritan territory. “Now he had* to go through Samaria.” It wasn’t geographically necessary to go through Samaria just to get to the other side. In fact the normal route the Jews traveled ran up the east side of the Jordan River past the outside of Samaria. It just figures that Jesus would break the social and cultural bounds and go right into Samaria.
As if traveling into a “forbidden zone” wasn’t bad enough, Jesus went further. He actually talked to a Samaritan woman! Talking to a woman doesn’t seem like a big deal right? Well, in the Jewish culture, women were equal, but they were not supposed to be taught the law in public. The fact that she was a Samaritan made matters worse. A Jew couldn’t even drink from the same vessel as a Samaritan without being defiled!
The most powerful thing about the story, however, isn’t the cultural differences that Jesus overlooked. It’s the fact that Jesus wasn’t ministering to someone who had it all together. Talking to a Jewish woman with an adulterous background would have been bad enough, but He was ministering to a woman who not only was an adulteress, but was a Samaritan as well!
I think this breaking of social norms is a concept we miss even though it is written all over the Bible. The gospel isn’t for people who don’t have problems. The gospel is for liars, addicts, adulterers, thieves and murders. The gospel is for sinners.
I don’t know how this fits into your Christianity but in the Christianity of the Bible people weren’t segregated by the way they looked, by the way they acted or by how far they had applied holiness to their lives. They weren’t judged by their color or by their cloths, they were included in grace.
Today it seems like more than ever before little Christian “cliques” are forming. Groups that segregate people into categories based on small denominational differences. Instead of focusing on sinners these small groups focus on inside issues eventually destroying brothers and sisters rather than building them up. Iron will only sharpen iron for a little while and then it starts to wear down, ultimately dulling the blade. The sad thing is there are so many people that need to be reached and so few people who are actually doing the reaching!
Josh Weidmann*, a popular youth speaker told this story:
“Not too long ago I was speaking at a high school in the south. Right in the middle of my talk in the school’s old theater auditorium, I heard a garbled yell from the balcony. It was a girl’s voice and it sounded something like: “THEYWON’TDOIT!”
I didn’t understand her, so in font of everyone I stopped and asked her what she said. She ducked down and ignored my question, and not knowing what else to do, I decided to keep going with the rest of my speech. Afterwards, the principal of the school pulled me aside and apologized for the girl’s actions.
“She has a really bad home life,” he said “I don’t think she’s got many friends here. Her teachers tell me she has a tough time in class…” Mid-sentence, his eyes looked away. I could tell by his look that someone was now standing behind me. I turned to find that girl. She opened her mouth without saying anything, then darted off towards the bathroom. I called her back. The principal offered his office. Before we had even sat down, she began to cry.
“Nobody loves me,” she said between sobs. I was floored by how quickly she had gotten to the core issue.
“What do you mean nobody loves you?” I asked. “surely somebody loves you.”
“My dad hates me,” she said. “He’s hardly in my life at all. He doesn’t even acknowledge me when we’re in the same room. My dad tells me straight to my face that I’m the greatest mess-up of his life.”
The girl pulled up her sleeves to show me long red and black marks on her arms. The night before she had cut along the veins of her arms and jabbed herself with a hot metal rod. She was not kidding. I found it hard to keep breathing. She needed more help than I could provide in a short space of time, but I wanted to clarify something.
“What did you yell from the balcony?” I asked. Her shout had come right at the point when I was telling the student body to reach out to the kids who aren’t accepted.
“I’m one of those kids you were talking about,” she whispered. “I’m one of the ones nobody accepts. I yelled, ‘They won’t do it!,’ because I know they won’t reach out. No one has ever reached for me.”
Now that may seem a little extreme but these themes are more common than you think. As people seek love they will go to extreme measures to get it. If we aren’t reaching out then we aren’t truly living the way Christ wanted us to.
Consider what Jesus did to reach out. He ate with sinners. He hung out with prostitutes, tax collectors, Gentiles and with those on the fringes. He hung out with the disenfranchized, with the lost, and with the lonely. He hung out with the people who had not only given up on society but on themselves. And in their presence, Jesus explained that God loved them, that they were important, and that they were in need. He graced them with His presence, and gave them a taste of community. He welcomed them, He focused on what they needed. Rather than making them come to God, He brought God to them.
Written by: Eric Novak. For more articles and thoughts from Eric check out his blog ericnovak.com
* The word “Had” is translated from “Dei” (δεῖ, dei) in John’s Gospel “dei” is used to describe the involvement of God’s will or plan. God planned for Jesus to meet the woman at the well and even though it was really “taboo” He went into Samaritan country to minister to a Samaritan woman.
* Josh Weidmann is the author of “Dad, if you only knew – Eight Things Teens Want to Tell Their Fathers (but Don’t).” You can visit his website at the following link: http://www.joshweidmann.info/
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