Read John 4:27–42.
To properly appreciate the social barriers Jesus crosses in His conversation with the Samaritan woman He meets, it’s helpful to know something about the history of the Samaritan people. It all started back some seven-hundred years before Jesus sat down at Jacob’s well, when the Assyrians invaded and conquered the northern kingdom of Israel. In order to keep the people they toppled from fomenting revolution, the cruel Assyrians made it a practice to relocate the families they defeated to various lands across their empire.
The people of Israel were spread thin across the ancient world, and the land of Israel itself was repopulated with foreigners. Of course, the Assyrians left a small remnant of O.G. Israelites in the land, and those Israelites intermarried with the Gentiles who had been placed there by their new overlords. The result was a new people group, the Samaritans, who mixed Pagan practices with Yahweh worship.
The Samaritans created their own holy site on Mount Gerizim, their own version of the Scriptures, and their own Messianic expectations. They kept their distance from the Jews, and the Jews returned the favor. The people of Judah considered their Samaritan neighbors to the north half-breeds, not true Jews at all. The two groups hated one another and spent centuries in a cold war punctuated by periods of armed conflict. Suffice it to say, there was bad blood between the Jews and the Samaritans. The disciples of Jesus have good reason, then, to be shocked when they find their Master deep in conversation with a Samaritan woman.
I love the humanity in John’s description of this scene. The disciples aren’t mean-spirited—at least not outrightly so; they hide their prejudice. They don’t say a thing to Jesus or dare ask Him what He’s doing conversing with a Samaritan. Even when the Samaritan woman leaves to tell others in her village that she may have just met the Messiah, they say nothing about it. Instead, they try to get Jesus to eat.
As we’ve already learned, Jesus knows what sort of thoughts and feelings swirl around in the human heart (John 2:24–25). He’s not interested in a snack. He is concerned with doing the will of His Father. He has come to shine light in the darkness and set people free from whatever is keeping them from experiencing the fullness of God’s love—from shame, as in the case of the Samaritan woman, but also from bigotry, as in the hearts of His own disciples.
Jesus simply tells them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about” (John 4:32). The disciples are focused on earthly sustenance. Jesus is filling Himself with eternal provisions. “‘My food,’ said Jesus, ‘is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work’” (v. 34). From there, He tells His friends that the harvest is ripe and ready to go.
But this harvest is a strange one, not like the earthly harvests that only come months after planting season. Jesus says, “Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together” (v. 36). This spiritual harvest is so abundant that the sower and the reaper cross paths.
The disciples were faithful Jews. They were waiting for the end of the age when God would sort all things out and bring justice to the world. In their minds, He would vindicate the Jewish people and condemn the wicked nations of the world. That would be the “harvest,” when what was sown in this life would be reaped for eternity. Jesus is telling them the future has invaded the present. It’s harvest time right now—eternal life is available at this moment—even as the activity of sowing for eternity continues.
The Samaritan woman and the gaggle of townspeople she brings back with her are Jesus’ proof. “And because of his words many more became believers” (v. 41). These Samaritan receive eternal life. They experience it here and now, in this world, even as they continue to wait for God to make all things new. Earlier in John’s Gospel, there was a hint of this already-and-not-yet aspect of the kingdom. In 3:36, we read, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them” (emphasis added). The harvest has come while the sowing continues.
And what’s more—the Samaritans experiencing this eternal life in the present come from the wicked nations the disciples expect God to condemn outright. They were unclean half-breeds according to most Jews, but Jesus came to save sinners of every kind. His love extends not just to the Jewish people, but to Samaritans and Gentiles as well. The racism of the disciples is being stripped away by the miracle of salvation taking place before their eyes. If God loves Samaritan people, then so must they.
The harvest has come. The future has arrived. Eternal life is available now, and we can be freed from every sin that entangles us. For all who trust Jesus, hope is no longer only for the future; it rushes back to meet us right where we are.