Below we have the latest installment of Bob Dunne’s book, 909 Days that Changed the World. We will post two chapters a week for the summer months. We suggest reading it quietly and putting yourself in the scenes. You might be amazed at how closer you can get to Jesus! Should you be interested in your own copy, the book ($14.95 plus sales tax) can be bought from his publisher Leonine Press, Barnes and Noble, or Amazon. It is also available in Nook and Kindle. You may also get an autographed copy directly from Bob by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chapter 7: Jesus Meets a Woman in Samaria
As Jesus and his disciples continue to preach and baptize at the spot where John had been before he moved up river, the leaders of the Jews in Jerusalem dramatically increase their surveillance of Jesus. They intensely desire to get rid of him. John now having been arrested, they begin to worry all the more that his followers might also turn to Jesus—they can see Jesus’ popularity with the people is rising. The Pharisees do not like it at all that Jesus has bested them twice: once at the Paschal feast a few months ago and just recently at Pentecost. They are angry and determined, so they begin to harass him and his disciples.
Jesus and his disciples of course notice they are being more closely watched by the authorities. It is clear there is a lot of bitterness towards Jesus. They can’t quite trick him into doing or saying anything they can use to arrest him, but they do not tire of trying. This uncomfortable situation goes on for over a month until shortly after Jesus gets the news of John’s arrest. Knowing that this is not yet the time for his full confrontation with the Jewish leaders, Jesus, “When [he] hears that John has been arrested, withdraws to Galilee” (Matt 4:12). Jesus’ heart grows heavy with the news of John’s arrest, and the hatred of the Jewish leaders drives him to move his ministry to the northern province of Galilee. The Galileans, a rural and simple people, will not question him with the affected sophistication of those in Jerusalem. Only a few of his disciples make the trip back to Galilee with him as the newer disciples from Judea return to their homes and responsibilities just as many of his Galilean disciples already have. It is mid-July and day 270 of the 909 days that changed the world when Jesus leaves Judea, deciding to take the more difficult Samaria route back to Galilee.
Having left in the morning, a day and a half later, Jesus and the few disciples with him are half-way though Samaria. At one point, the road swerves around the foot of a range of mountains running alongside them down towards an open valley until the road slips westward through a narrow opening into Sichem. As this high road glides into the valley, there is Mount Gerizim on the left, which is the sacred Samaritan mountain on which is built the rival temple to the one in Jerusalem. On the right down the road several hundred yards is the well of Jacob, which he had given to his son Joseph. Higher up the valley on the right is the village of Sychar, about a half mile from the well. The village of Sichem is not yet visible up the road on the left, as it is hidden by the mountains. This area is full of Old Testament memories: this is where Jacob had settled after moving from Mesopotamia and where Joseph was buried after Joshua had conquered the land, bringing back with him Joseph’s bones from Egypt.
It is late in the afternoon, and Jesus sends his disciples into the village to try to get some food. Weary from the travel and his heart still heavy from John’s arrest and the Jewish leaders’ harassment, Jesus sits and waits for them by the Well of Jacob. Presently a Samaritan woman comes to fetch some water. Usually the women of the village get the water in the morning and early evening, but this woman is somewhat of an outcast in the village for reasons we learn as Jesus talks to her. He surprises her by asking for a drink of water. Stunned by his words but seeing that he is tired and thirsty, she honors his request, draws some water, and offers him a cup. Instantly Jesus seems energized, and his eyes shine with that look that has captured so many already. The Samaritan woman, still taken aback but not being shy, asks the question foremost on her mind: “How do you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (John 4:9). Jesus knows who this woman is and what her life has been like, but he responds to her generosity by trying to draw her deeper, saying, “If you knew who it is who is saying to you ‘Give me a drink,’ you would ask, and he would give you living water. Whoever drinks the water I shall give shall never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:10). This poor woman has no idea what Jesus is talking about, but, drawn to this man, she makes her first act of faith, albeit for selfish reasons, saying, “Sir, give me this water so I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water” (John 4:15). Things really get interesting from here. In response, Jesus makes a request that causes her to stop. “Go call your husband and come back” (John 4:16). She wonders how she will respond to this request, because she doesn’t want this man she has come to like knowing about her personal failings. ‘I know,’ she thinks to herself, ‘I will tell him a half-truth that he will likely interpret differently from my intent.’ Like most of us, she doesn’t want her serious faults laid bare, so she coyly replies, “I do not have a husband” (John 4:17). With eyes still bright fixed on hers, Jesus smiles slightly and nodding says, “You are right to say you have no husband for you have had five husbands and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true” (John 4:17-18). With those words, Jesus fully captures her, as she thinks to herself, ‘He knows the full truth about me, yet he does not seem to condemn.’ Her heart is suddenly lightened. They talk some more, and reflecting if this man could be he, she asks him, “I know the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ” (John 4:25). The anticipation in her voice is palpable. How will he respond? Jesus then, for the first time in his ministry, to a poor Samaritan female sinner no less, speaks the powerful truth about his mission. “I am he who is speaking with you” (John 4:26). There, by the Well of Jacob, on a hot day, Jesus reveals himself to this woman. He has not proclaimed it to the masses, nor shouted it from the mountain top of nearby Gerizim; he has spoken it softly to one woman. Such will be the way of this Jesus. He will speak to individual hearts. Those who want to hear will do so; those who do not want to hear, or are too busy to hear, will not. Such is his respect, even to this day, for the freedom of his human creations.
Just then, Jesus’ disciples return with food from the village and are scandalized to see him talking with this Samaritan woman. She, for her part, takes one last, long look into Jesus’ eyes and runs off, forgetting her water jar, back to her village of Sychar. She cannot wait to tell everyone about the man she has met. “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Messiah?” (John 4:29). She believes so in her heart, but knows the men will have to judge for themselves. She runs home and tells her husband, but he is unimpressed and scoffs at her enthusiasm. Ignoring his coldness, she goes into the village and tells everyone she meets the same thing. Regardless of her reputation, her enthusiasm is so great that the men of Sychar indeed go out to visit Jesus. Even her husband decides to join the men, although he hangs towards the back. Jesus’ disciples see this group coming down the hillside road and turn towards them. What can this mean? Are they, as Jews, safe with all these Samaritan men approaching them? Could it be that Jesus has insulted the woman, and these men are coming to avenge her? Perhaps they should gather themselves and go back the other way? All these questions stir in the disciples’ minds, but as they look at Jesus, he appears calm and even has a small smile on his face anticipating the arrival of these Samaritan men.
When they do arrive, Jesus greets them warmly. Being men of good will, they are impressed and inspired by his words and demeanor. The disciples let out a sigh of relief to see these men have come to learn more about Jesus and not to attack them. As Jesus speaks with the men from Sychar, and the hour grows late, the Samaritan men invite him and his disciples to stay with them overnight. Samaritan men asking Jewish men to stay overnight as guests in the village? This is unheard of; clearly something unprecedented is taking place here—and so unique that Jesus ends up staying there for two days. He has so captivated the town of Sychar that, on his leaving, the people of the town say to the Samaritan woman, “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world” (John 4:42). We can only imagine the scene as Jesus leaves while the whole town, all of them standing together, wish him good-bye. Even the husband of the woman at the well is there, inspired after his encounter with Jesus. We must also ask ourselves why these people, non-Jews, embrace him so quickly, while so many others have pushed him away. Jesus tells none of them, “Follow me,” but is content to let them live the words he has spoken to them in their own village. Although no one follows him now, many will get to see him again in a little over a year, when Jesus takes the Samarian route to the Feast of Tabernacles. We are left to ponder what these people will think a year and three quarters from now when they learn Jesus has been put to death by the leaders of his fellow Jews.