John 4:1-6 (NIV): 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.
It was not yet time for Jesus to be getting into conflict with the Pharisees. The day would come soon when He would have the discussion with them about who and what He was, but that time was not now. So when the potential conflict arose, Jesus withdrew back north to Galilee.
Directly between the region of Judea, the home of Jerusalem, and Galilee, where Jesus had His home base at Capernaum, lay Samaria. Most Jewish people took a longer, less direct route between the two regions, crossing to the east side of the Jordan River, so as not to dirty the soles of their shoes with Samaritan soil.
The Samaritans were the descendants of Assyrian transplants, brought into the area when Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, captured the remaining cities of Israel and took all of the people captive because of their blatant rebellion and idolatry (2 Kings 17). The resettled Assyrians came from all over the Assyrian Empire, and were very much pagan. God sent lions among them, and they requested that the king of Assyria send one of the captive priests back to teach them how to worship the god of the land. So the king sent one of the captive priests back, little more than a pagan himself, to supposedly teach them how to worship the true God. In the end, the religion of Samaria was a highly syncretistic one – they worshipped the God of the Jewish people in a corrupted way, but their worship was combined with the worship of the other gods that they had brought with them from their home territories.
In Jesus’ day the Jewish people saw this corrupted worship as a danger to themselves. After all, it was idolatry that had sent them off to exile in Babylon six centuries before, and they did NOT want a repeat of that! They also were offended at the Samaritans’ claim to be legitimate worshipers of the true God, and heirs of the promises that He had made to His people. So they cut a wide swathe around Samaria, quite literally, by crossing the Jordan River and bypassing the whole area to the east.
But Jesus had to go through Samaria on this trip, following God’s instructions. So He did not take the longer way, but went straight through to a town called Sychar, the town known as Shechem in the Old Testament. The town had a bloody history (cf. Genesis 34), but God had amazing plans for the people there. Their hearts were ripe to receive the Messiah, so Jesus came into this dark, “unclean” area to bring light and holiness to the people there.
Father, Jesus’ obedience was so intuitive. When You told Him to go somewhere, even somewhere that most other people saw as a bad place to go, he simply went, seeing the good that You would work through Him. Lord, help me to have that same kind of intuitive obedience – to go where You send me, to do what You command, and even to say what You call me to say – so that in Your power I can spread the light of Jesus everywhere You lead me. Amen.