God’s Word tells us that to endure in this life we must fix our eyes on Jesus (Heb. 12:2). But what does it mean to fix your eyes on someone you can’t see?
The Gospels tell stories about Jesus that show us his character. We learn how he interacted with people and the world around him. By studying these stories, we learn to set our eyes and hearts on him.
Jesus interacted with all kinds of people, but there’s something beautiful, convicting, countercultural, and transformative about Jesus’s interactions with women.
Backstory on Samaria
To understand the significance of Jesus’s conversation with the Samaritan woman, we should know a little background. Samaritans were of a mixed ethnicity and religion—they were not Jews, but they practiced elements of Judaism and worshiped Yahweh alongside other gods. The Jews spitefully regarded the Samaritans as hated half-breeds. Both the Jews and the Samaritans were hostile toward each other’s cultural and religious practices and sites of worship (Luke 9:53).
As we come to the scene in John 4—to a well in Samaria at midday—there are invisible lines in the sand; unknown to modern readers but well-known to John’s first audience. Cultural lines, religious lines, ethnic lines, and gender lines mark dramatic rings around that particular well. But here’s the thing about Jesus: he’s not afraid to cross lines.
And these crossed lines would forever change the woman of Samaria and many others in that region.
As John 4 opens, Jesus and his disciples are traveling through Samaria. Tired from the journey, Jesus rests beside a well on the edge of the town of Sychar. As his disciples head into town to buy food, Jesus is left alone. It’s noon and likely hot, and a woman from Samaria arrives to draw water.
Jesus asks the woman for water; she expresses surprise that a Jew would talk to a Samaritan. It was culturally unacceptable for a man to speak with a woman privately (4:27). Jesus, however, cares for people more than he cares for cultural, political, and religious divides. Above all else, he is concerned for the woman’s soul; and he desires to give her living water (4:10).
Cultural lines, religious lines, ethnic lines, and gender lines marked dramatic rings around that well. But here’s the thing about Jesus: he’s not afraid to cross lines.
Jesus and the Samaritan woman talk, and he ends up telling her everything she’s ever done. Most importantly, he reveals he’s the Messiah she’s been waiting for. With a new heart of love for him, the woman drops everything and runs off to share with her village what she’s learned.
When Jesus and the disciples return to the town center, many of the Samaritans have become believers, and they ask Jesus to stay for two days. During those two days, Jesus and his disciples would have engaged with the Samaritans on an intimate level—eating, talking, living together—despite massive cultural divides.
Jesus did not sin by speaking with the woman alone. Nor did he sin by speaking with a Samaritan, someone culturally and religiously unlike him. In fact, if Jesus had followed the prejudices of his day and not spoken to her, she might never have heard the good news. The people in her village might never have believed.
But Jesus didn’t follow the prejudices of his day regarding gender and ethnicity. On the contrary, he lifted up and honored those the culture marginalized. Surely this was part of his appeal. People used to being dismissed, ridiculed, and rejected were suddenly talking with someone who both saw them and loved them.
Eyes on Him
Jesus made himself known, made himself available, and, most importantly, lovingly knew the Samaritan woman. That’s not just a good story. Jesus has also made himself known to us, is available to us, and lovingly knows our deepest needs and longings. He satisfies us by giving us himself. For the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12:2).
If this is true—if his character is true, which it is—then where else would we go? Let’s fix our eyes on Jesus, and love the unlikely as he did.