In John 4:1-42, there are two major themes running side-by-side. The first we talked about last week: Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman about worship. Now this week, we’re looking at Jesus’ interaction with his disciples during this episode.
They travel with Jesus from Judea, heading north to Galilee. When they arrive in the Samaritan town of Sychar at lunchtime, we read in verse 8 that the disciples head into town to get lunch for everyone, while Jesus stays alone at a well on the outskirts of town. It is curious to me that no one stayed with Jesus. Did all twelve men need to go into town to buy lunch? Was it a case of teenage herd mentality?
We attended my daughter’s end-of-season soccer banquet the other night. At one point during the meal, I watched as an entire table of girls got up together to check the dessert table. Not one or two. The entire table, at the same time. They didn’t need to do that. But that’s herd mentality.
Maybe it’s FOMO. Fear of missing out. Maybe it’s also protection. Who wants to be alone? Especially when you are a group of Jews heading to enemy territory, a Samaritan city. Remember the Jews and Samaritans detest each other. So it would be a lot safer for a group of 12 Jews to travel in a pack.
Yet, that means they leave Jesus alone, which strikes me as irresponsible. Then again, Jesus spent time by himself a lot. Maybe he directed his disciples to go and give him some space.
Eventually though, they return, and what they find is shocking. Look at verse 27:
Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”
The disciples show up, likely with a bit of emotion because their teacher is doing what their culture deems wrong. He is talking with a woman. She’s a Samaritan woman to boot. The disciples would have been surprised, concerned, and confused. Jesus, however, was not the least bit concerned. Repeatedly in the Gospels we see Jesus giving women the equality they deserve as humans made in the image of God. What could have been scandalous in that culture was nothing to Jesus, because in his view, which is the right view, it wasn’t scandalous at all. The cultural view of women was wrong.
But just as the disciples were likely shocked to see Jesus talking to a Samaritan woman, the Samaritan woman might have been surprised by twelve Jewish men showing up. What does she do? Look at verses 28-30:
Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him.
The sudden appearance of twelve Jewish men gives the woman enough reason to leave, not to mention the exceedingly thought-provoking conversation she’s just had, a conversation she cannot keep to herself. We talked about that conversation in-depth in last week’s posts, starting here. It was a conversation with a Jewish man…who knew her life story…who taught with compelling authority…who bested her in a theological duel…who claimed to be the Messiah, and she had to admit it all made sense.
Because of that, she heads back into town and starts telling people about Jesus. Which is what you do when you meet Jesus. You tell people. That’s what we still do, still should do. We have met the Messiah. Just like the Samaritan women, we still tell the story. The people in the Samaritan town of Sychar who hear her are intrigued. Could this be the Christ? They want to see for themselves.
Before we learn what happens when the townspeople arrive at the well, the scene changes. While the woman has been in town, we learn that Jesus and his disciples are having a conversation of their own. We’ll learn about their conversation in the next post.