So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. 4 Now he had to go through Samaria. ~John 4:3-4
The context of this “leaving” is notable. Jesus left Judea for a reason. He left because the religious leaders of his day caught wind that he was gaining a following. His disciples were baptizing lots of people – even more than John the Baptist.
Why would that make Jesus leave? If Jesus was bringing people to God, why would religious men be upset? Why would what some religious pretenders thought make him stop and leave? Why was that a problem?
It was a problem because those religious leaders were extremely jealous. Jesus knew they wanted the power and control of God’s house and God’s people that belonged solely to him. Because they so coveted and idolized power and control so severely, they wrongfully assumed that that was what Jesus and his followers must want, too. They thought that he came to take their beloved places of authority. Because their identity was in their works and their positions rather than in a right relationship with God, they hated Jesus and his right-doing followers.
Ironically, Jesus had every right to direct the religious dealings of the Jews. He was their Savior! He had every right to be the authority among all of them and all the Gentiles as well. He is the King of Kings!!! Wonder what would happen if Jesus showed up today to put his church in order? Wonder what religious men would do? Wonder what would happen if he tried to do it through the testimony of an adulteress woman?
Somehow, people, especially particularly religious ones, do not like when Jesus is really in charge of the church. When Jesus is calling the shots, men are not and their almighty positions of leadership are threatened.
Jesus does not fight with them over their pride and pretense. Instead, he reveals it. He reveals it by leaving. He chooses to go through Samaria – a place and a people that the Jews overtly hated. Jesus proves their hypocrisy without even saying a word to them. He does it merely by purposefully preaching to a person they despised – a Samaritan woman.
Sometimes religious leaders cannot hear plain and simple truth no matter how clear and obvious it really is. They cannot hear because they refuse to. The wisdom of Christ recognizes that and stops talking. The wisdom of Christ simply shows them up by doing exactly the things they should be doing but refuse out of their pride and hypocrisy.
Jesus went directly through Samaria on a route the Jews went far out of their way to avoid. The text says he “had to.” He had to because he had to show the religious men their fault. He had to because he had to show the Samaritans salvation. He cared equally about both the religious men in their error and the irreligious woman in hers. He proved both in one act.
To prove the level of hatred for the woman with whom Jesus chose to speak, the text says this:
27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?” ~John 4:27
No one asked these questions. Despite their surprise, no one wanted to know? There is a reason for that. They likely did not want to be asked to do the same. Even Jesus’ own disciples were tainted by the social norms of their day. They knew it was social homicide to speak with Samaritans or honor them as brothers and, gasp, sisters. They were not willing to risk their own reputation to honor people God had chosen. They were afraid, prideful, and unyielding to those whom God had deemed clean.
Jesus is not like erring, religious men. He does not avoid difficult and uncomfortable situations. In fact, he makes it a point to meet the very people who instigate them. He does it in order to show prideful men the hatred they have in their hearts for others and to show humble outcasts the love he has in his heart for even them. He does both at the very same time.
Even Jesus’ disciples feared following his lead and example in talking to this outcast woman. Not only was she part of a social group they avoided, she was a she and not a he. The contempt they had for her was doubly great. Jesus shone a light on the contempt they had for her in order to show them the wickedness in their own hearts.
That is why Jesus “had to” go through Samaria when everyone knew you were supposed to take the long way around and avoid them – avoid her- at all costs! He had to expose the attitudes that had a continual internal dialogue that repeated words like this: “What if someone sees? What will people think? She is a dog! We cannot be friends. We are enemies. I’m so good and she’s so bad and what if someone thinks I like her? What if someone thinks I like her more than I should? What if I do like her more than I should? How will I cover up my sin? How will I regain my good reputation? She will ruin me! She is out to get me! She is bad! I am good! Stay away, wicked wench! You are not worthy of my words or my water! God does not call people like you to serve him! Let me just keep pretending you don’t exist so I can feel good about my own righteousness, good reputation, and religious position!”
The Jews were wrong about Jesus. Their power-hungry hearts were desperately jealous. They were wrong about the Samaritans. They were wrong about women. The Jews were no different than any other human group on earth. They just thought they were because they were used to getting special treatment; preference; respect; seats of honor. They were, after all, the children of a long line of self-righteous, spoiled brats. They were just as desperately needy and sinful as any Samaritan in Samaria. Therefore, Jesus pulls the curtain back on their dark thoughts and actions not by telling them, but by doing the very things they were not willing to do. He shows them their sin by doing the right they refused to do.
And the woman preached the gospel by her testimony. The Samaritans were saved despite all the religious efforts to avoid the likes of these unworthy people whom they esteemed themselves so much better than.
Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers. ~John 4:39-41
To that end I ask, are things really any different today? If you think things have changed, try being a former adulteress with something to offer in a patriarchal church in 2017. Nevertheless, despite the odds, Jesus used an adulteress to save a town full of outcast rejects. If anything gives me hope at all, it is that.
Be careful who you purposefully avoid. Be careful who you hold contempt for in your heart. Jesus might call you out on your hypocrisy and pride by using that very person to start a revival among those you consider most unworthy; those you personally despise. What will you do when God’s church is full of people you have spent your whole life avoiding and despising? You have two choices: