"The Samaritan woman said to him, 'You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?' (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)" - John 4:9
No self-respecting rabbi would have ever done what Jesus did. Not only had he chosen to travel through Samaria—a region devout Jews in Jesus’ day avoided like the plague—he had done the unthinkable. He spoke to a Samaritan woman in a public setting, and all indications are that she was a woman of questionable repute. Was she a prostitute? Probably not, but even among her own Samaritan neighbors, she was likely a social outcast. Yet Jesus chose to chat with her as if she were a fellow rabbi.
Jesus’ disciples couldn’t believe their ears. Didn’t Jesus know that this woman could destroy his reputation? The Samaritan woman herself couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Her head must have swiveled like an owl’s—looking right to left making sure that Jesus was actually talking to her and not to someone else. But there was no one else. This Jewish rabbi was starting a conversation with her, and she didn’t know what to make of it.
Unlike the Babylonians who conquered the remaining two Jewish tribes 135 years later, the Assyrians had a practice of intermarrying with the citizens of a conquered nation. They believed that the best way to squash any future rebellions within a conquered nation was to destroy their national identity. And the best way to do this, in their view, was to intermarry with them.
The Jewish people prided themselves in having pure Jewish bloodlines that could be traced all the way back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But as a result of Assyrian intermarriage, the Samaritans were hybrids: part Jewish, part Gentile. So in the centuries following the Assyrian conquest, the people of Samaria became social outcasts. When traveling from northern Israel (Galilee) to southern Israel (Judah), most Jewish rabbis in Jesus’ day chose to take the long route around Samaria to ensure that Samaritan dust wouldn’t stick to the bottom of their sandals.
Yet Jesus traipsed right through the middle of Samaria. Why? Why would a Jewish rabbi do something that was so countercultural, so socially unacceptable, so reckless for a rabbi whose reputation was already being questioned by the powers that be? He did it because Jesus loved people—regardless of whether or not their bloodline was “pure,” regardless of whether or not their past was checkered, regardless of whether or not socializing with them might tarnish his own reputation.
You see, in Jesus’ view people are ministry priority #1. He is more willing to wade through a cesspool of nasty accusations and rejection than he is to allow one lost sheep to stay lost. So, he asked the Samaritan woman politely for a drink…then used the opportunity to offer her the “living water” of a restored relationship with God.
Many Jewish leaders who heard about Jesus’ actions that day must have grimaced in absolute disgust and thought to themselves, “Jesus is the worst rabbi ever!” But at the end of the day, Jesus really didn’t care. He was too busy celebrating the fact that one lost sheep had returned to the fold. This woman who was—for all intents and purposes—spiritually dead had come to life again. And her new life was contagious.
As we read John 4, we can learn several important tips for sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with individuals who, like the Samaritan woman, are spiritually parched. Tip #1: Treat people with respect. Even social outcasts need to be valued and respected. Jesus threw all social protocol to the wind in order to speak to the Samaritan woman with respect. And it worked! Tip #2: Quench people’s spiritual thirst. Once Jesus grabbed this woman’s attention by treating her with respect, he identified a deep need that she had and told her how he himself could fill that need. Did he have her attention? Without a doubt! She was hanging on his every word.
Tip #3: Make others' needs a higher priority than your own needs. Was Jesus tired and in need of rest? Absolutely! Was Jesus hungry? Without a doubt! But getting rest and stuffing his face with dinner wasn’t his highest priority. The Samaritan woman was. And as he made her a higher priority than himself, her life was transformed by the power of the gospel message. Her life was permanently changed by her encounter with Jesus, and so too will many other lives as we follow in Jesus’ footsteps.
As you share the good news of Jesus with those who are looking for God’s love in all the wrong places, treat them with respect. Lovingly share how Jesus alone can quench their deep-seated spiritual thirst. And put their needs above your own. You may lose some sleep and miss a meal or two. Your reputation may even take a hit among the religious snobs. But in the long run, who cares? Regardless of the personal cost, Jesus came to seek and save the lost. Who are you to do otherwise?
Dane Davis is the lead pastor of First Christian Church of Victorville and the author of Holy Huldah! Lessons You Should Never Forget from Bible Characters You've Never Heard Of. To hear Pastor Dane's messages for for more information about the church, visit www.fccvv.com.