The Jews and Samaritans had been estranged for a long time. It all started when those who had been in exile and those who had not been in exile, couldn’t agree on where the temple should be. Initially, it was a mild estrangement, but around 200 BCE, it grew in intensity. It ended with the Samaritans claiming Mt. Gerizim as their place of worship–the place where God resided; and the Jews claiming Jerusalem as their place of worship–the place where God resided. By the time Jesus met this woman at the well, the estrangement was entrenched. Reconciliation was long past being hoped for–they didn’t even associate or talk to each other. Was it a quiet hostility toward the other? A civil distance? A distant coldness? We don’t know, but when Jesus asked an unnamed woman for a drink at Jacob’s well in the region of Samaria, he broke a centuries’ old silence.
Not only did he break a silence between feuding relations–for this was, in reality, a family dispute over religion–he also broke the societal taboo that men and women who are not related should not speak to each other. We are told in v. 27, that the disciples were astonished that he was speaking to a woman. The woman herself cites the divide between the Jews and Samaritans as the reason Jesus shouldn’t be talking to her, but the disciples notice the gender issue.
- John 4:5 - 42