In verses 20-26 we have the following recorded by John for us. “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem. Jesus declared, ‘Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and now has come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.’ The woman said, ‘I know that Messiah (called Christ) is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.’ Jesus declared, ‘I who speak to you am he.'”
These verses are theological, gender, and culturally mind-blowing. Jesus is treating this woman as a serious theologian. In doing so Jesus reveals for the first time in his ministry, and to her as a female, a non-Jew or at best half-Jew one of the most important teachings on worship found in the New Testament. Since this event is early on in Jesus’ first year of public ministry, and according to what we observe in the gospels, this is Jesus’ first time addressing this topic.
We must understand that as a Jewish rabbi, over his three-year ministry, Jesus had female disciples or followers, they contributed to his ministry finances, and they sat at his feet to be taught on the same level as his male disciples. This was revolutionary. No rabbi before and to my knowledge rabbi after Jesus’ time ever followed in Jesus’ example. For a married rabbi to even speak to his wife in public was extremely rare, much less any female during the course of a day. Never would rabbi’s allow a woman to be taught spiritual truths or sit at their feet for this was strictly reserved for men. In fact, I want to close this post while inviting you to our next post as we go deeper into this passage of scripture by sharing with you some rabbinic quotes revealing their opinion of women which will only make Jesus’ conversation with this Samaritan woman all the more earth-shattering.
From the noted Jerusalem and 2nd B.C. Rabbi, Yeshua Ben Sirach, the following quotes. “Women are responsible for sin coming into this world and their spite is unbearable and daughters are a disaster. Do not sit down with the women, for moths come out of [their] clothes… A man’s spite is preferable to a woman’s kindness… Women give rise to shame and reproach. Women are too stupid to learn, so why bother teaching them anything.” Rabbi Eliezer, 1st Century CE stated, “Rather should the words of the Torah be burned than entrusted to a woman… Whoever teaches his daughter the Torah is like one who teaches her obscenity.” When you combine these attitudes with the fact that Jewish women typically did not get beyond what we would call an elementary education versus the males who go beyond what we would call today’s middle and high school, you can see why Jesus’ teaching here is so out of character and revolutionary for a Jewish rabbi of his day.
Stay tuned as we will post again soon on what is a fascinating look into the cultural and theological story behind Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well.