Who are the Samaritans and why is it a big deal for Jesus to talk to one?
Israel had judges and priests before they had a king. Saul, David, and Solomon were the three who ruled a united Israel. When Solomon died in 922 BC, his two sons divided the kingdom into two:
- The Northern Kingdom with Jeroboam (10 Tribes)
- Judea with Rehoboam (2 Tribes)
High turnover of leadership and instability for 200 years until: The Assyrian Empire overtook the Northern Kingdom. Relocated populations to prevent uprisings (Chinese & Uighurs). Intermarriage. Dislocation. The area is renamed Samaria.
The Babylonian Empire overtook Judea 150 years later, destroying the temple in Jerusalem and taking the well-educated leaders into exile for 50 years.
Finally, the Persian King allows them to return home and offers to fund the rebuilding of their temple. But there are no glory days to go back to. Everyone’s experience of trauma is different and too much time has passed to imagine a future in which Israel is united and whole.
The Samaritans offer to help rebuild the temple, but the Judeans rebuke their help calling them unclean and impure Jews. The tension and retaliation between the two groups continue for hundreds of years. While they share ancient history, they keep each other at a distance: The Samaritans live and worship on Mount Gerizim near the well in Sychar. The Jews keep working to rebuild the temple so they can worship in Jerusalem.
But it turns out the Samaritans kept a priestly line of Levites, worshiped Yahweh, and kept the Torah as their sacred scriptures through more than 700 years of oppression, division and secular influence.
By the time of Jesus, Judeans had preferred routes between Judea and Galilee that were long and roundabout to avoid setting foot in Samaria. That Jesus entered Samaria at all is a significant statement. But he stops and speaks with a woman in a town and at a well with church cultural and religious symbolism. He moves off the well-trod paths of avoidance to be where people are ignored, despised, misunderstood, traumatized, different, forsaken.
Who do we avoid today? Where is Sychar in your commute? How are we still building routes right by and away from each other?
Living water is a dangerous proximity, a holy time, a deep attention to and for one another. The woman announces, “He knows me! He’s on my turf even though he has every reason not to be. He’s talking to me and he loves me. He knows me!”
This is where we find Jesus. And each other. And ourselves.