Necessary, part 1


John 4

File:Woman at the well, Japan. (10797603194).jpg

Woman at the well, Japan. From the National Museum of Denmark from Denmark

5Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.

What’s missing from our assigned reading this Sunday are the preceding verses which say 3He left Judea and started back to Galilee. 4But he had to go through Samaria.”  Hiding in the English of verse 4 is the little Greek word ‘dei’, ‘it was necessary’.

It was not necessary to travel through Samaria.  In fact, from Jerusalem to Galilee most Judeans would not take the road through Samaritan territory; they would go down to the Jordan River, up the far side of the Jordan, then back into Galilee, avoiding Samaria altogether.  That way they did not have to deal with their despised and (mutually) hostile neighbors.  In Luke 9, when a Samaritan village refuses hospitality to Jesus and his band, the disciples are ready to call down fire from heaven as though the village had committed a sin equal to Sodom and Gomorrah.  There was no love lost between Judeans and Samaritans.

But, for Jesus, it was necessary.

Scholars refer this little Greek word as ‘the divine imperative.’  It was the plan and purpose of God for Jesus to go through Samaria.

It was not by chance that Jesus encounters this broken woman at the well outside the city.  No less than it was by chance that Philip met the Ethiopian Eunuch, or Paul finds the roads to Asia, Mysia and Bithynia all blocked, leading them to Troas and the vision of the man from Macedonia

Jesus had work to do, a ministry with this woman, a ministry with this woman that would change the whole Samaritan village and transform the followers of Jesus from a Judean club into the church, the gathering of all people to worship God in Spirit and Truth, the fulfillment of God’s purpose to redeem the whole world.

I wonder if Jesus was aware of his destiny at that well.  Surely John recognizes in Jesus a sensitivity to the Spirit of God that would make it likely.  But does Jesus “know” or was it just an inner sense that the path he should take was the unexpected one, together with a spirit open to God’s strange working, so that he recognized the moment when God provided it?

Attentiveness to the Spirit.  Openness to the unexpected.  Recognizing the moment.  They are important elements of walking in the way, of being agents of mercy in our wounded world.


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