Although most of us have often heard the term "good Samaritan" used, do we realize exactly who the Samaritans were and how much the Jews hated them and looked down on them? To the Jews of Jesus' day, the very word "Samaritan" was an insult. (See John 8:48) Why did the Jews hate the Samaritans?
In the year 72O B.C., Shalmanesser, the King of the Assyrian Empire, had invaded Israel and carried the 1O northern tribes away as captives to the land of Assyria. He then brought in strange peoples from the faraway lands of Babylon, Cuthah, Ava, Hamath and Sepharvaim who inhabited the cities of northern Israel where the Jews had once lived--which then became known as Samaria. (2Kings 17:22-41)
These people were heathens at first, and though they gradually learned to worship the God of the Jews, they believed only in the first five books of Moses. As Moses had made no mention of Jerusalem being a holy city, the Samaritans didn't worship in the Jewish Temple there. To them, Mount Gerizim in Samaria was the holiest spot where God was to be worshipped, and they built a Temple atop it. So, because the Samaritans were a mixed bastard race and their customs and religious worship were different, the Jews considered them inferior and didn't associate with them at all!
One time, when fleeing from His religious enemies in the land of Judea, Jesus decided to go north to His home-province of Galilee. The shortest, most direct route between Judea and Galilee was straight through Samaria, but the Jews detested the Samaritans so much that, rather than even passing through their land, they would cross the Jordan River and make a long detour around Samaria.--But to His disciples' surprise, Jesus led them straight through Samaria!
In an attempt to leave their enemies behind, Jesus and His disciples had walked nonstop for many miles over rough, rugged terrain since early morning, and now it was nearly noon and the sun was hot overhead as they trudged along the high road that wound between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal. Coming around a curve in the road they saw an inviting sight: Jacob's Well!--Which the great Patriarch Jacob and his sons had dug nearly 2,OOO years earlier!
The thirsty, travel-weary band gathered round the famous well, longing to slake their thirst, but they had no water jug to draw water with and the well was 1O5 feet deep. They were also totally out of food. Only half a mile ahead, in the beautiful valley between the two mountains, lay the Samaritan city of Sychar (called Shechem in the Old Testament), so it was decided that they would go on into the city to buy food and drink. But Jesus was exhausted: He had had very little sleep the night before, and only a little to eat and drink all day, and just couldn't go any further. So as His disciples continued on down the road into the city, He sat down by the well to rest.
About half an hour after the Disciples had left, Jesus heard footsteps approaching. He looked up and saw a beautiful woman, clothed in long flowing robes coming down the road toward the well, an empty water-jug in her hands. Something in the way she walked and carried herself told Jesus that she was a woman who was used to living pretty loose and free. The fact of the matter was, she was the town scandal.
As Mara approached the well, she was surprised to see a stranger sitting in the shade nearby. She looked at him suspiciously a couple of times. "Obviously a Jew," she thought. Hoping He wouldn't bother her, she prepared to lower her bucket into the well.
"Will you give me a drink?" Jesus asked.
Surprised, Mara looked at Him. Surprised indeed, for according to Jewish tradition, it was forbidden for a Jew to drink out of a vessel that an "unclean" Samaritan--and especially a Samaritan woman--had touched.
"How is it that you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?" she asked rather curtly.
Jesus answered, "If you knew the gift of God and Who it is that said to you, 'Give me a drink', you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water!"
Mara smiled, amazed at Him, and retorted, "Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where can you get this 'living water' from?" Seeking to put this Jewish stranger in his place, she tossed her head and said, "Do You think You're greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and his herds?"
Jesus rose, and walking over to the well, rested his hand upon it, saying, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water that I give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give shall be in him a well of water springing up to eternal life!"
Now here was an extraordinary statement, Mara thought. Imagine!--Having an inner water supply so she would never get thirsty again! Not quite sure if He was serious or not, she answered, "Sir, give me this water so that I won't get thirsty and have to keep coming all the way here to draw water."
Jesus replied, "First go call your husband, and come back."
"I have no husband," she replied with a pretence of maidenly modesty.
Jesus said to her, "You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you're living with now is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true."
Mara was shocked! How could this total stranger know such details of her private life? How could He know unless... unless He were a Prophet? Suddenly an inspiration came to her! Here then would be a good person to ask the most controversial and disputed religious question of the day!
"Sir," she said, "I can see that you are a Prophet." She paused a second, then pointing up to the Temple atop nearby Mount Gerizim said, "Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship."
Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe Me, the time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain, nor even in Jerusalem. But the time is coming--and has now come--when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeks such to worship Him! God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth!"
Mara was astonished at His answer. "How wonderful!" she thought. "If only it were true!--If we could just worship God in our hearts wherever we are!" She thought about it a second: Now, asking a Prophet this question was one thing, but still, she thought, the person she'd really like to ask it of would be the Savior, the Messiah!
Leaning up against the well, she said, "I know that the Messiah is coming, which is called the Christ, the Anointed One. When He is come, He will tell us all things."
Jesus looked deep into her eyes and said, "I Who speak to you am He!"
Mara's eyes opened wide! She looked at Jesus startled. Could He...could He really be the Messiah, the Christ? She felt her heart begin to pound as she looked into His deep, penetrating eyes!
Just at that moment, they were suddenly interrupted by the sound of a group of men coming around the bend in the road. It was Jesus' disciples, returning from town, their arms full of bread, fruit and jugs of milk. As they came up and began to sit down with the food, Mara jumped up, and leaving her water-pot, ran back up the road toward the town a half-mile away.
Gasping for breath, she came running back into Sychar. Shoppers still crowded the busy marketplace and men sat in the shade of the city gates, resting and talking. "Come!" she called out excitedly, drawing a crowd, "Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did!"
Many of the Samaritans of Sychar gathered round to hear her tell her amazing story. She then startled them by exclaiming, "And then He told me He was the Messiah!" Seeing her conviction and enthusiasm many of the people believed her, that the man she had met at the well actually must BE the long-awaited Messiah!
It wasn't long before Jesus' disciples saw a large crowd of people rushing down the road from the city toward them, the woman in their midst, still talking excitedly. The crowd came up to the well where Jesus and His disciples were, and immediately began to urge Jesus to please stay with them in their city and teach them. Jesus consented to stay with them for a couple of days, and the Samaritans, rejoicing, led them back to Sychar and gave them the finest food and lodgings they could prepare.
For two whole days, Jesus taught in their city and the Samaritans were thrilled to hear the wonderful liberating doctrine that there was no difference between Jews and Samaritans in God's eyes, and that Man should worship God wherever he was, not just in some material temple somewhere! Hearing the beautiful Words of Truth which He taught, many people came to believe in Him, and marveling, remarked to Mara, "We no longer believe just because of what you said; for now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this Man is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the World!"
On the last day, as Jesus and His disciples were preparing to continue on their journey to Galilee, a great multitude from the city gathered to bid them farewell and give them gifts of food and wine for their journey. Mara, her heart full of love for Jesus, came up through the crowd to bid Him goodbye. A smile of joy was on her face, for now she fully understood the meaning of His Words that day at the well, and a spring of living water now flowed in her soul.
May you also receive God's wonderful gift of Eternal Life, and may His beautiful Spirit of Love well up in your heart too!
Prayer: Thank You, Jesus, for Your wonderful Love!--Love enough to forgive all my sins. Help me to love and be merciful to others, even as You have loved and been merciful to me!--In Jesus' name, amen.