“he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.” (John 4:3–5 ESV)
Seven words form a short sentence that we often read right over in order to get to the “real story.” When we do so, we miss a beautiful truth that will stir our affections for the Almighty. Jesus did not physically “have” to travel through Samaria. It was the most direct route between Judea and Galilee, but no respectable Jew would travel that route. Devout Jews would go around Samaria by crossing the Jordan and going up the east side in order to avoid becoming unclean or defiled by coming in contact with a Samaritan.
The Samaritans were a people that resulted from the intermarrying between Jews and people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva and Hamath that the king of Assyria brought in to settle the region (2 Kings 17:24–31). The Samaritans had their own version of the Pentateuch and worshiped on Mount Gerizim instead of in Jerusalem. They were half breeds that were despised by both the Jews and the Gentiles. They didn’t fit in anywhere, they were alone.
Jesus had to pass through Samaria because of the providential call of God. The Greek word used here (see also John: 3:7, 14, 30; 9:4; 10:16; 12:34; 20:9) means that it was necessary, it was a divine mandate or requirement – it was part of God’s plan. He had to travel through a land that would make Him unclean, but one of the beautiful realities of the messiah is that He cannot be made unclean by interacting with defiled people. Quite the opposite, He makes dirty people clean. Religious Jews would go around this region. Religion always blinds us and makes us self righteous and avoidant of those we deem to be unworthy – as if we are worthy because of our own doing (1 Corinthians 4:7).
We must ask the question, “why?” Why did Jesus have to go through Samaria? Why did God’s providence lead Him there? Could it be that He is showing us that no one is too unreachable, too unworthy or too unclean? Could it be that He was demonstrating that the gospel is for all ethnicities, genders, socio economic classes and moral type of people? Jesus had to go through Samaria because He came to seek and save His lost sheep and apparently there were quite a number of lost sheep in Samaria because many of them believed (John 4:39-43).
The Samaritans asked Him to stay two extra days and He obliged them – I can only imagine what the disciples were thinking! Many believed in Jesus based upon the woman’s testimony alone. Jesus stays with a group of outcasts two extra days! Jesus loves those who are unloveable by the world’s standards. We often times seek to be loveable – that is to bring something of merit before the Almighty – instead of resting in the love that He has for us.
These unclean, outcasts profess Jesus as the Savior of the World. He is not only the Savior of the Jews, but the Savior of the world. He saves all people – from every nation, tribe and tongue! First to the Jews (Nicodemus in John 3:1-15), then to the Samaritans (John 4:1-42) and then to the Gentiles (the official at Capernaum in John 4:46-54). This is the mission of the church.
What does this providential appointment mean to us today? The Word, Creator, Almighty condescends Himself to a defiled, unclean, unholy place & people in order to redeem. The Creator serving the created is backwards, but that is what it took to undo the effects of the fall (John 4:30-34, Mark 10:45, Matthew 20:28). God providentially invades the world of His lost sheep. God’s redemption means that He makes lost sheep forgiven, acceptable, clean and holy. He makes unclean outcasts clean. He makes clean people holy. He makes us family. In God’s kingdom, the unwanted outcasts are welcomed with open arms. Jesus’ good words of forgiveness & redemption are only spoken to those who feel unworthy, alone and dirty because good people see no need for grace. The grace of God has adopted you and made you His son – perfectly acceptable. You are no longer on the outside looking in and this was done because He “had to” go through Samaria and He “had to” come to you. You didn’t seek Him, He sought you. You were lost and He found you, redeemed you and adopted you according to His plan which He determined before He breathed a star into the heavens.