The Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John, although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. When the Lord learned of this, he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.
Now he 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 the sixth hour.
John 4:1-6 (NIV)
“He had to go through Samaria.” That phrase has always struck me as a little bit strange. Samaria was right in between Judea to Galilee; the main highway ran right through it, so the most direct route would, of course, take Him right through Samaria. At the same time, there were a lot of really pious people who would never take the direct route for any reason, because they considered Samaritans an impure people, and they believed that even setting foot in their territory would contaminate them. These folks would cross the Jordan, bypass Samaria on the other side of the river, and then cross back over again. It was a much longer route, but they figured it was worth the extra time to avoid the possibility of contamination.
But Jesus “had to go through Samaria.”
Jesus’ decision to move back north came about because His baptism ministry was starting to draw the unwanted attention of the Pharisees, because He had become even more popular than John. So some figure that He needed to go through Samaria in order to get out of the area in a hurry. But Jesus is never pictured as being in a hurry. Not when He was escaping from a murderous crowd in Nazareth (he WALKED through the crowd and simply “went on His way” – Luke 4:30); not when He was going to Jairus’ house to save his daughter from dying (He paused on His way, apparently for several minutes, to validate the healing of the woman who had touch Him and had been cured of her bleeding – Mark 5:24-34); not even when He was headed to Jerusalem to accomplish His mission of laying down His life for our sins (He stopped along the way to eat lunch at Zacchaeus’ house, and took time out to heal Bartimaeus.). Jesus was never in a hurry because He always worked on God’s timetable, and at moved at God’s pace. He was never late, He was never early, and He was always right where He needed to be at precisely the time He needed to be there.
I firmly believe that Jesus “had to go through Samaria” because that was exactly where His Father wanted Him to be. And He arrived for His “divine appointment” right on time.
The place was a well, right outside the town of Sychar, the old Biblical Shechem. Nearby was the tomb where Joseph’s bones were brought from Egypt and buried (Joshua 24:32). It was about noon when He arrived, and He was tired from the long walk and the heat of the day. And so He sent His disciples into Sychar to buy some food, sat in the shade, and waited patiently for a woman to arrive for a conversation that was going to rock her life.
Today too many of us pass our days without ever thinking that God might have something that He wants us to do. And so we make our plans, and then hurry through meals, hurry through traffic, hurry through life, hoping to get everything on our lists checked off.
What would it be like if we were to sit with God first thing in the morning, and then several times during the day, and find out where HE wanted us to go; what HE wanted us to do? The narrative of our day might include lines like, “Fred had to go to the park to eat lunch,” or “Jan had to go to the grocery store,” or “Katie had to take the bus to work instead of driving.” And then would follow the story of the divine appointment that God had set up for us in those places; the story of God using us to bring the Kingdom of Heaven into contact with someone whose life will never be the same again.