She was astonished! Ordinarily, the village women drew water at dawn and dusk. So she went to the well about noon expecting to be there alone, to avoid the upturned noses and cruel words from the other women. And then she met this man, this Jew! Who asked her to give him a drink! It was scandalous, and she didn’t need any more scandal in her life.
Of course, you know the story. So do I. It has been told many, many times, and had thousands of sermons preached about it. And despite all this I read it for years without seeing its full scope, and its surprising implications. You know the saying about not being able to see the forest for the trees? That’s what happened to me with this episode. I knew the details (the trees) so well, I missed the bigger picture. See if you can spot it:
Now he [Jesus] had to go through Samaria.
So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.
When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” —John 4:4-7.
If you saw it for the first time, you’re going, “Wow!” If you didn’t, don’t feel bad. Most people miss it, because we are looking for something else. Let me give you some clues.
1) Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in Judea, so when he stops in Samaria, he is traveling in a foreign land.
2) In that foreign land, he goes to a well.
3) While at the well, he meets a member of the opposite sex.
4) He asks this person for a drink, which would require her to draw water from the well. In this case, there have a lengthy conversation, after which
5) the woman rushes home with the news about this stranger.
We’ve seen this before: Eliezer and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel, Moses and Zipporah, just to name three.
Yes. It’s a Betrothal Narrative.
At this point you may be objecting, “But Jesus isn’t a prospective bridegroom, and certainly not for this woman!” Hold that thought, we’ll come back to it. If you find this Betrothal Narrative surprising, imagine the shock a first century Jew steeped in the Old Testament would feel. The scenario presented here is simply outrageous. Are they going to be betrothed?! Impossible! A Jewish man cannot marry a Samaritan woman! Talking with any Samaritan would be scandalous, but this is a Samaritan woman! Don’t forget, Jewish women were not allowed in the men’s courtyard at the Temple. They had their own courtyard. A Samaritan woman would be considered even of lower status.
Nevertheless, all the ingredients are here. It is a Betrothal Narrative. What can John be up to?
Read other posts in the “Matriarchs and Prophets” series.