“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
John 4 records the longest dialogue Jesus has with a person. The person remains unnamed, but we know that she was a woman who lived in Samaria, so we call her “the Samaritan woman.” This conversation is remarkable for many reasons, the first of which being that Jesus, a Jew, spoke with a Samaritan.
There had been antagonism between the Jews and Samaritans for about a thousand years before Christ. Long after the Exodus, after the reigns of King David and Solomon, the nation of Israel split into two nations. The southern part became Judah with its capital city in Jerusalem, while the northern part kept the name Israel but with the capital city of Samaria.
In 722 BC, the Assyrians set out to conquer as much of the world as they could. They captured the northern kingdom of Israel, taking most of its people into exile. Those few Israelites left behind to tend the land were left under the watchful eye of some Assyrians. It did not take long for these Israelites and Assyrians to intermarry, producing children that were neither Israelite nor Assyrian, and these later generations became known as Samaritans.
By Jesus’s day, the Jews, the descendants of the southern kingdom of Judah, reoccupied much of the northern area—except for Samaria. To the Jews, the Samaritans were crossbred people who had turned their backs on God, and there was little companionship and friendship between the two groups.
This explains the Samaritan woman’s response in the opening verse. When she went out at midday to a well outside the Samaritan town of Sychar and met Jesus, who asked her for a drink, her initial reaction was shock. We can imagine her adding in her head, “How can You, a Jew, one of our hated neighbours to the south, ask me for a drink?” But rather than antagonize, as many Jews would have done, Jesus turns the conversation: “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink…” (John 4:10). Jesus ignores their peoples’ troubled history, instead making her aware that she did not know that God had a gift to give her.
What is the gift of God? There are many things that could legitimately be described as gifts from God, but Scripture specifically speaks of one specific “gift of God” in Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God’s gift is eternal life. In a seemingly unexpected conversation, Jesus overturned centuries of prejudice and proclaimed that God was offering a gift to everyone.
PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus Christ, thank You for breaking cultural boundaries and showing that the gift of God is for everyone. Praise You!