3He left Judea and started back to Galilee. 4But he had to go through Samaria
It was necessary for Jesus to go through Samaria, to go the unexpected way. It was necessary for this woman discarded by five husbands and not worthy of a marriage contract by the one she is with. It was necessary for this woman unwelcome among the society of woman at the well in town. It was necessary for this woman bearing a burden of shame that has her carting water in the heat of the day rather than risking a chance encounter with others.
But a chance encounter is what she finds. A daring encounter. For this strange man speaks to her, transgressing all social boundaries, asking for a cup of cold water. This is the one who will once again say, “I thirst” on that day when he is lifted up for all to see the face of perfect love.
Judeans regarded Samaritan women as ritually unclean from birth, unable ever to be made pure. To share a cup is as unthinkable as sharing a water fountain in the Jim Crow south. And a man would not speak to a woman in public unless she was a member of his family – unless his motives were dishonorable. Even to be alone, one on one, with a woman would disgrace her, except this woman is already disgraced. Jesus does the shocking and bold thing. He asks for a drink.
It is of this very act that Jesus says in Matthew, “If anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”(NIV) By this act the nations will be judged, the sheep separated from the goats, in that great concluding parable of Matthew 25 when the Son of Man declares, “I was thirsty and you gave me drink” – or, conversely, “I was thirsty and you gave me no drink.”
The gift of water, the sharing of a well, is an act that manifests the nature of God’s realm, the world brought under the reign of the Spirit of God, a world where resources are shared rather than guarded and horded. By this simple request this woman is drawn into the reign of God, the realm of life and light, where shame and sin are lifted and all things made new.
It was necessary for Jesus to go through Samaria. Necessary for this woman. And necessary also for us – for her story changes the trajectory of Jesus’ ragtag band not only this once in the beginning when the door was opened to outsiders, but again and again as her story is told and retold and continues to testify to the daring, radical, transformative mercy of God.