Jesus came to the small city of Sychar, about eight miles southeast of the city of Samaria, where He met a Samaritan woman at a well.[i]
There are several important things to note about the encounter with this woman. First, He spoke to her at a public well. It was generally not considered appropriate for Jewish women to speak to men in public unless they were members of the family. Jesus’ disciples reflect this attitude in their response. John 4:27 tells us that the male disciples were amazed that Jesus had been speaking with a woman.
Second, the woman was most likely a societal outcast because she chose an odd time of day to get water. The encounter took place at the sixth hour (noon-time), which was a common Jewish meal time and the hot time of day. In John 4:18 it tells us that she had been married five times and that she was currently living with a man that was not her husband. Most rabbis of the day would not have public encounters with any women, let alone those who were considered “sinners.”
Third, Jesus crossed an additional social boundary by asking her for a drink of water even though she was a Samaritan. Jews and Samaritans were ordinarily not friendly with each other. Jews considered Samaritans to be a “half-breeds” because they intermarried with colonies of foreigners that the king of Assyria had placed there while the ten tribes were in captivity. Intermarriage with foreigners was frowned upon because it was forbidden in the Law.[ii] Samaritans embraced a religion that combined Judaism with idolatry. This cultural value is reflected in the woman’s response to Jesus’ request for a drink of water. “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?”[iii] Jesus was not only willing to speak to the woman, but He also offered her “living water,” a living relationship through encounter with the Holy Spirit. He offered her a relationship that was not tied to a building, but one where she would be free to worship in spirit and truth.
Her Encounter with Jesus Resulted in a Release of Ministry
After her prophetic encounter with Jesus, the woman was so excited that she told men about Jesus[iv]. It is interesting to note that in the culture of the day, women were not even considered reliable witnesses in court.[v] Jesus supported her work by telling the disciples that they were reaping where they did not sow. Jesus did not tell the woman to stop teaching because she of her gender. To the contrary, Jesus praised her public witness (evangelism), which resulted in many conversions.
Christian tradition states that the woman Jesus met at the well was baptized by the apostles and given the name, Photini, which means “the enlightened one.” Her five sisters and two sisters were also converted. Photini became an evangelist to the city of Carthage and was eventually martyred by the emperor Nero for her activism in Christianity. [vi]
This is an excerpt from chapter five of the book UNSilenced.
[i] John 4:4-43. [ii] Deuteronomy 7:3-4. [iii] John 4:9. [iv] John 4:28. [v] Pierce, Ronald W., and Rebecca M. Groothius. Discovering Biblical Equality: Complimentary Without Hierarchy. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2005, 139-140. [vi] The Self-Ruled Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, “St. Photini, the Samaritan Woman,” The Self-Ruled Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. http://www.antiochian.org/st-photini-samaritan-woman (accessed February 5, 2016).
2016 Alan Garrett, alsgarrett.net