What Jesus did at the well when he spoke with a Samaritan woman was actually a brave act that challenged cultural and religious norms of their time.
When we read that story in John 4 today, perhaps all that we can read is a casual conversation between two people on a sunny afternoon. But that seemingly casual conversation is far from usual and it screams scandal for the Jews. More than that, this story teaches us a lot about how Jesus expects us to go beyond our borders — yes, even behind enemy lines — and share the good news to other people.
The ancient antagonism between the Jews and the Samaritans is rooted on racial discrimination and religious dispute. When the nation of Israel was conquered by the Gentile nations around them, the Samaritans intermarried with unclean races. The Jews found this disgraceful, and they considered them infidels, a sinful race, enemies of the faith. Any association with the Samaritans was unacceptable.
This is where Jesus stepped in and broke the walls of religious and moral prejudices of their time. By doing this, Jesus teaches us the following lessons about discipleship.
1. Be intentional.
In the story, Jesus left Judea and departed for Galilee, and “he had to pass through Samaria” because Samaria lies between Judea and Galilee.
During their time, the Jews normally took a longer route just to avoid setting their foot on Samaritan soil. Though passing through Samaria was the quickest route, the Jews chose to cross the Jordan River and avoid the Samaritans.
But Jesus had to pass through Samaria, not because he was tired or because he was in a hurry to reach Galilee. He had to pass through Samaria because he had a mission to complete. He knew that a woman at the well in Samaria will receive his message that day.
How about you? Do you intentionally reach out to people around you? Do you make a conscious effort to go out of your way, make time for others and listen to them in order to share the gospel?
2. Be bold.
Jesus leading his disciples through Samaritan territory was scandalous enough for a rabbi. But he did more than that: he spoke with an enemy of the Jews! And if it wasn’t scandalous enough, Jesus spoke with no other than a Samaritan woman. Proper Jewish men didn’t speak directly with women other than their wives.
When Jesus did that, he bridged the centuries-old wall of sexual, racial and religious barriers between the Jews and the Samaritans. Jesus risked being questioned, misunderstood or even persecuted. For him, the woman was worth the trouble. She had a great need, and he had the only answer.
Who are the Samaritans in your life? The sinful, the immoral, the people whom the world (and even well-meaning Christians) have condemned and rejected? Will you reach out to them and give them hope? Will you boldly share the gospel even when it is not socially acceptable?
3. Be strategic.
When Jesus spoke to the woman at the well, he grabbed the chance of using a present need in order to get his message across. Jesus began by asking for water from the well because he was thirsty. Then he pointed out the woman’s constant need for water. Seeing that he piqued the woman’s interest, he went on and told her about the Living Water that he offers.
If we want to reach out to others, we need to be armed with the best strategy to engage them and connect with them. We begin by listening to their needs, knowing their interests and genuinely caring for them.
Who are you trying to reach out today? What are his needs, interests and concerns? How can you connect with him more?
4. Be compassionate.
Towards the end of Jesus’ conversation with the woman, he exposed her sin and dealt with it, but he showed compassion by not condemning her. The most outrageous thing that Jesus did during that sunny afternoon was not talking to a Samaritan woman; it was offering hope and salvation to the Samaritans — the sinful, unfaithful, detestable Samaritans!
How many times have we judged, rejected and condemned others because of their sin? How many times have we felt morally superior to others just because we don’t commit the same sin that they do? How many times have we felt holier than thou, because read our Bibles and pray every day? How many times have we distanced ourselves from others just because they don’t go to the same church as ours?
How many times have we made fun of the cross-dressing homosexuals on the street? Or looked away from the stinky beggar on the road? When an ill-dressed man comes to church, do we welcome him warmly just as how we welcome the man in coat and tie?
I pray that we will see them through the eyes of Jesus; to see them with compassionate eyes and love them with the kind of love that goes beyond lip service. Jesus died for them, too. And we ought to help them follow Jesus as well.
5. Be Christ-centered.
As the afternoon chat between Jesus and the woman ended, Jesus pointed her to himself: the Messiah that they have been waiting for; the Savior of the world that will save us from hell; the Lamb of God who will take away the sins of the world.
Discipleship is not about promoting the church. It’s not about growing the church’s dwindling attendance, nor is it about building a club where we stand as the leader. Discipleship is about following Jesus and bringing people along with us. We make disciples of Jesus.
We preach Jesus to the lost. We share the gospel to the harassed, helpless and needy.
As Jesus revealed himself to the woman, her eyes were opened and she did the most amazing thing in her life: She believed the message and shared it with her neighbors. Soon enough, many other Samaritans heard Jesus’ message and believed.
I hope that through our boldness and compassion, we would be able to disciple even the people beyond our borders. As we do so, we know that our courage and obedience will result in a bountiful harvest for God’s kingdom.
Honor God. Make disciples.