Fruitfully Living

When Jesus Broke Racial Barriers: The Woman at the Well

When Jesus Broke Racial barriers. Woman at the Well DrawingChristians do not often relate the account of the woman at the well as a story about breaking racial barriers. The reason for that is because the word “racism” is really a modern word. When we read Biblical accounts sometimes we miss modern applications because we don’t see our modern words in the text. That is exactly what happens when we read the account of the Woman at the Well (John 1:1-42). However, by looking at it closely, it is clear that this account is an example of Jesus breaking racial barriers.

Discovering the Racial Elements in the Text

I have read that section of scripture many times and I have generally focused on the words of Jesus introducing salvation to this Samaritan woman. It is a beautiful story, but my previous casual reading of this text made me miss so much that is buried in these ancient words. But that changed recently when I was given the opportunity to teach this account to the youth group at my church.

About a year ago, I came across a little paragraph in my Chronological Bible that discussed some of the cultural realities of the time and I remember being blown away by how Jesus was turning the prevalent sexism of his time on its head (you can read about it in How Jesus Empowered Women). But it was only recently, in preparing to teach the youth that the racial aspect of this account jumped out at me.

The Samaritans Were Racially Intermixed

To see it, you have to understand the racial realities of Biblical times. By the time Jesus was walking on this earth, there was a centuries-old feud between Samaritan’s and Jews. When the Israelis had been taken captive by the Assyrians in approximately 722 BC, their captors had brought in colonists who intermarried with the few Israelis that had been left behind. This intermixed group of people would later be known as the Samaritans. Fast forward over a hundred years later, and a remnant of full blooded Jews had been allowed to return to their homeland by the Babylonians. This group of full-blooded Jews and their descendants came to despise the Samaritans and resented the fact that these Samaritans were now racially and religiously intermixed. (For a little more detailed history of this conflict read here.)

Good Old Fashioned Racism

Enter Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Jesus was a rabbi, and rabbinical standards of that time dictated that any “good” Jew would go nowhere near a Samaritan. Why? Because Samaritans were considered “half-breeds.” When I asked my youth group class what that sounded like using modern terms, a very perceptive junior high student responded, “racism.” The most “religious” of Jews hated Samaritans so much that if they needed to travel between Judea (in the south) and Galilee (in the North), they would travel west into Perea and go completely around Samaria which was sandwiched in between Judea and Galilee. Considering that travel time by foot was about two and a half days from Judea to Galilee, to take such a detour would have been very taxing. The hate ran deep.

Another common belief by religious jewish leaders at the time was that anything a Samaritan touched was unclean. That means that drinking out of the same vessel as a Samaritan would have been unthinkable. When I reflected on this, it brought to mind the American segregation era when blacks were not allowed to drink from the same water fountains as whites. Yes, the prejudices against the Samaritans can only be described as good old fashioned racism.

Jesus Crushes the Racial Barriers

But what does Jesus, the rabbi do? For starters, he didn’t take the long route through Perea to get from Galilee to Judea. He went straight through Samaria. The text actually said that he needed to go through Samaria and many Biblical commentators rightly point out, I believe, that the need was a spiritual one. He had a divine appointment, even if the intended party had no idea what awaited her. The account says that he reached the Samaritan city of Sychar and he sat at the well and asked the Samaritan woman for a drink. With the simple words, “Give me a drink,” he broke down centuries of cultural, social, and racial biases. Why? Because by asking the woman for a drink, the King of kings was telling the woman, “I am willing to drink out of the same vessel as you because to me, you are not unclean, you are worthy.”

Obviously, none of us are worthy. We all have fallen short of the glory of God. Our worthiness comes from Christ alone and as He proceeds to talk with the Samaritan woman, he invites her to drink from His living water to eternal salvation. But his actions stand in stark contrast to the corrupted doctrines and biases of the religious leaders of his time. No wonder the Pharisees hated Him so much, but Jesus would have none of it. If anyone had any right to feel superior to any other human being, it would have been Him. And yet, He did not act superior. A couple of years later in the ultimate act of humility he would die for all of us, for all races and ethnicities, even for those that hated Him the most.

In this beautiful account of the woman at the wall, the actions of Jesus are a good reminder to all of us that we have to check our own prejudices and biases at the door when interacting with others. There is no room for racism in Christianity. On the contrary, Christianity is about love, love for even those we consider “unworthy.”

In this beautiful account of the woman at the wall, the actions of Jesus are a good reminder to all of us that we have to check our own prejudices and biases at the door when interacting with others. Click To Tweet

We Are ALL Loved

So what of the Samaritans today? I am not sure, but I do know that a word that once was considered so vile by so many now has a positive connotation. Thanks to Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan, we now associate Samaritans with something really good. There is even a law named after it, the good Samaritan Law, to protect those just trying to be good neighbors. But what I want to remember when I think about the word Samaritan is my King, and how He loved us all then and how He loves us all now.

Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Other articles that may be of interest:

Woman, Gird Up Your Loins

Jehosheba: The Princess Hero

 

If you were encouraged by this article, please be so kind to share!

 

18 Comments

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  7. Tricia Walden

    Great takeaway from this chapter. Much food for thought. Thank you!

    Reply
  8. Bob Hayward

    How powerful to put ourselves, myself in the persona of the woman at the well. To imagine Jesus asking me for a drink – How wonderful to think He would be / was willing to drink out of the same vessel as me because to He does not see me as unclean, that He sees me as worthy

    Wow.! Thank you

    Reply
    1. Luisa Rodriguez (Post author)

      It gets me every time too Bob! To drink out of the same vessel as the King of kings!

      Reply
  9. Michelle Broussard

    Wonderful article Luisa! I particularly like “In this beautiful account of the woman at the wall, the actions of Jesus are a good reminder to all of us that we have to check our own prejudices and biases at the door when interacting with others. ”

    Seeing each other as God sees us is so important. Blessings!

    Reply
    1. Luisa Rodriguez (Post author)

      Thank you Michelle!

      Reply
  10. Brianna Martin

    How true that we don’t usually frame this story within the modern context of racism, but it’s really true that the Jews and Samaritans had racial prejudices against each other. I love that my king was a king who broke down barriers! Thank you for this post!

    Reply
  11. Stuart L. Tutt

    Wonderful post Luisa. I love the history lesson as well. Always vital when trying to decipher scripture.

    Reply
  12. Edna Davidsen

    Dear Luisa!

    This was an interesting perspective, Luisa, especially because it touches something that I think is crucial when we read and try to understand what’s written in the Bible – the cultural context.

    I agree with what you say in this post.

    We see again and again how Jesus turns everything that’s considered being ‘normal’ upside down. I think he did that because he wants us to think, and the be reflexive.

    With love!
    Edna Davidsen

    Reply
  13. Jordan

    Beautiful!! “I am willing to drink out of the same vessel as you because to me, you are not unclean, you are worthy.” – This is such an amazing picture of Jesus and His grace toward us. Thank you <3

    Reply
    1. Luisa Rodriguez (Post author)

      I love that too!! It is wonderful to know that in Jesus we are all accepted, treasured, and loved!

      Reply
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