The Bad Samaritan
Once upon a time there was a woman of Samaria. (In the land of the Bible of Jesus’ day, Samaritans were second-class citizens, and a Samaritan who was also a woman was not exactly a person of honor.) This particular woman was an especially bad Samaritan. In contrast to the proverbial Good Samaritan” she was “bad” in behavior, in how others saw her, and in her social outlook.
Although he was weary from a hard day of ministry, Jesus chose to bring God’s eternal message of love to this woman. He sat near the well, and as she came to collect water, he spoke to her with the intent of engaging her in conversation.
The account does not mention the presence of others at the well. Since wells were vital to community life, they would normally be a gathering place frequented by many of the townspeople. Some think the woman had come at a time when she was unlikely to encounter anyone. That way she could avoid the conflict of social interaction, for we read that she was of doubtful reputation. We learn later that she was living with a man who was not her husband, and that she had already gone through relationships with five other “husbands.” Her resultant “outcastedness” must have produced social embarrassment that made interaction with others unpleasant. Little did she know that Jesus cared about her enough to interact with her.
He spoke to her as she approached, saying, “Give me a drink.”
“Boy,” she may have thought, “What’s wrong with him? He must be new in town. He doesn’t know who I am, and besides, Jews like him don’t even talk to us Samaritans.”
Jesus piqued her interest further by saying, “Actually, you should be asking me for a drink, instead.”
“Now I know this guy is weird,” she must have thought, “and he’s definitely not from here. He wants to give me a drink, but he has no pitcher.”
Then Jesus intrigued her even more by saying, “I know where you can get some water so that you won’t have to come back to this well ever again.”
“Now that sounds great,” she thought, and said, “O.K., I’d like some of that water you’re offering me.”
But when Jesus told her that he knew she was living with a man who was not her husband, she quickly wanted to change the subject. She tried to do that by showing him how religious she really was by saying, “You Jews worship in Jerusalem and we Samaritans worship in this mountain” (a conflict that continues even to this day).
Jesus brought her back to important issues by telling her, “It doesn’t matter where you worship. It matters whom you worship.”
Suddenly, she who had such a social disdain for others, was beginning to feel a tinge of animosity towards Jesus. She said defensively, “When the Messiah comes, he will tell us everything we need to know.” In other words, “leave us alone,” and especially, “leave me alone.”
Then Jesus came right out with it plainly, “I—the one who is sitting here talking to you—am the Messiah!”
In examining this encounter of Jesus and the Samaritan woman, we see several things: First we see that there was never a person in whom Jesus was not interested. He did not think it strange to go against the customs of his day in order to communicate important spiritual truths. He approached a woman of probable bad repute in daylight for all to see. He was more concerned with helping that woman out of her spiritual darkness that he was with guarding his reputation. (Contrast Jesus’ action with the action of Nicodemus in John chapter 3. Nicodemus was so concerned about his reputation as a leading Pharisee that he approached Jesus under cover of darkness.)
As we examine the rest of John’s account of the Samaritan woman, we see how much her encounter with the Messiah changed her. Formerly, she had been an outcast in a society where men and women who were unrelated did not usually speak to one another alone. After her encounter with Jesus, she must have seemed immediately different.
We see her running to tell the men of the city that they must go and see a man who is the Messiah. Could it be that something in her demeanor had changed so drastically that those who otherwise might have fled from a social pariah now stayed and listened—even responded to her message? Receiving their acceptance, her own outlook on the society in which she had been placed must have changed. Indeed, we might say that she became the first female evangelist, or at least the first one recorded in the Gospels.
Another thing we can learn from this account is how to witness effectively. Many people contact us at Jews for Jesus, wanting to know how to go about it. I would recommend that they simply make themselves available to conversations about the Messiah—as Jesus did with the Samaritan woman. Regard everyone as a potential hearer of God’s Word. It is not necessarily those who are at the top of the social ladder, nor the social outcasts, nor those who are brilliant, nor those who are slow-minded who are the most approachable. There are many in every circumstance whom God is calling to himself.
How, then, do we witness? It must be done with truth and sincerity. Turn the conversation to spiritual matters as Jesus did, and bring to that person’s mind the fact that Jesus is, indeed, the Messiah, and that he offers them eternal life.
Bob Mendelsohn is the leader of Jews for Jesus' work in Sydney, Australia. He grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family in Kansas City, but became a college drop-out when he decided to look for the meaning of life in the counterculture of the '60s. He found meaning and relevance in Jesus which caused him much trouble at home. But he says, It was worth the cost." Bob has worked for Jews for Jesus since 1979, and served as the leader of our work in Washington DC and New York City before moving to Sydney in 1998. Bob and his wife Patty both graduated from the University of Kansas and Fuller Seminary. The Mendelsohns live in Sydney near their son. Their two daughters and one grandson live in the US.