in·vis·i·ble (/inˈvizəb(ə)l/) – an adjective – meaning unable to be seen; not visible to the eye.
To understand the full ramifications of the story behind the Samaritan woman at the well, let me start with a little framework to help us understand the divisive culture in which she lived. Specifically, we’ll look at the conflict between the Jewish and Samaritan people as well as issues surrounding gender.
According to the Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, feelings of ill will between Jews and Samaritans probably went back to before the separation of Israel into northern and southern kingdoms. Even then, there was a lack of unity between the tribes of Jacob. Part of the issue was the inclusion of Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, as full tribe members. Though they were actually born to Joseph in Egypt, Jacob adopted them into the Israelite family as Jewish descendants. This arrangement did not sit well with most full-blooded Jews, and thus, underlying conflict brewed between the two segments of people.
After the separation of Judah and Israel in the ninth century, King Omri of the Northern Kingdom bought the hill of Samaria from Shemer. There he built the city of Samaria, which became his capital.
Then Omri bought the hill now known as Samaria from its owner, Shemer, for 150 pounds of silver. He built a city on it and called the city Samaria in honor of Shemer. 1 Kings 16:24 NLT
To help us understand and give us a rough idea of the feelings that existed between the Jews and Samaritans, we need simply look at the turf wars between street gangs in Los Angeles or New York, the hostility experienced between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, the war between Serbs and Muslims in modern Bosnia, and the pure hatred of white supremacist groups towards any non-white person. In other words, even in Biblical times, there were severe racial, religious, and cultural separations. Politics and religion may have been underlying factors, but sadly, there was actual abhorrence between the Jewish people and the Samaritans, so much so that Jewish people would not acknowledge Samaritans in any fashion. They simply treated them as if they were invisible.
So where did that leave a Samaritan woman? Basically, all women in Biblical times were treated as second-class citizens. If it wasn’t bad enough that cultural and religious divisions existed, women dealt with a severe gender division. As a result, they were virtually invisible in relation to men. For example, men were not to address women in public. Therefore, to be a Samaritan woman was difficult indeed.
During one of His many travels, Jesus leaves Judea to return to Galilee and goes through Samaria on the way. Tired from the long walk, Jesus stops at Jacob’s well about noontime while his disciples were off to buy food. As a Samaritan woman comes to draw water from the well, Jesus politely asks her for a drink of water. Imagine her surprise that He was speaking to her directly as well as respectfully. Taken aback, questioning why He is asking her for a drink of water, she points out that He is Jewish, and she is Samaritan.
Unphased by this exchange, Jesus proceeds to offer her the wonderful gift God has for her, the gift of living water. Quite confused now, she questions Him about His offer seeing as He has no rope or bucket for water. She also challenged how He could offer her better water than that which came from Jacob’s well. This leads Jesus to explain:
“Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” John 4:13-14 NLT
In utter amazement, she now wants the water Jesus is offering! After all, who wouldn’t want that kind of water?!?
The beauty of this story is Jesus’ open, countercultural view and treatment of females. Jesus regularly and directly addressed women, especially while in public. His regard for the full, indispensable worth of women is clearly seen in scripture. However, Jesus did not sugar coat the sin in the life of any woman or man He met. Just like men, He held women personally responsible for their own sin.
Watch how He deals with the Samaritan woman at the well:
“Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her. “I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied. Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband— for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!” John 4:16-18 NLT
The Samaritan woman, completely engaged now and having been outed by Jesus, bravely continues the conversation. And Jesus in His kindness reveals to her that He is the long-awaited Messiah (John 4:26).
At this juncture, the disciples return and are mortified to find Jesus speaking not just to a woman, but to a Samaritan woman. Yet, they are too fearful to question Him.
In contrast, the Samaritan woman hurries off to her village full of excitement. In her haste to share what she has learned; she leaves her jar at the well. Through her testimony, many Samaritans believed in Jesus as well as many others who encountered Him during His brief stay in Samaria.
Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not just because of what you told us, but because we have heard him ourselves. Now we know that he is indeed the Savior of the world.” John 4:42 NLT
Just like the Samaritan woman, though our circumstances or others may make us feel invisible, we are not. Jesus sees us and everything we do. Regardless of our situation, He loves us dearly and stands ready to use us if only we believe it.
Precious Father, even when we feel like no one sees us, we acknowledge you have eyes only for us and we bask in your love. We pray that you will reach a multitude through us despite our invisibility to some. Continue to cover us against the enemy, guide us through the dark times, and by your love shine a light on us making us visible to those who need it most. In the sweet name of Jesus, amen
Written by Melony Henderson
Please note all scripture was taken from the NLT – New Living Translation
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Rift Between Jews and Samaritans by Pat McCloskey, OFM at Franciscan Media
Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, translated and adapted by Louis F. Hartman, C.SS.R (McGraw Hill)