John 4:4, in most modern translations, runs something like “Jesus had to go through Samaria.” It is one of the rare verses that I actually like better in the King James: “And he (Jesus) must needs go through Samaria.”
Nowhere else that I can find in Scripture do we see the Word of God express a need, even for Jesus. We see descriptions of Jesus sharing our weakness, we see a few times where Jesus demonstrates physical needs like hunger. Yet we do not see Jesus really needing anything at a deeper level.
Except for here. Here, we see Jesus must needs do something. He must needs go through Samaria. Why?
We need a little history to get that information clear for us. First, the reality on the ground was that the Roman Empire controlled everything in the region that we now call Israel, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, and most of their neighbors. It was all one Empire, though the various administrative districts were different from one place to another.
National borders, however, are not everything. The Samaritans were one ethnic group, while the Jews who lived in the districts of Judea and Galilee were a different ethnic group. Now, back up the historical tree, there are several relationships between the two, but by the first century, these lines were pretty well sundered.
How sundered? Well, to get from Jerusalem to Galilee, one could either go through Samaria or go the long way. You cross the Jordan River, go through modern-day Jordan, then cross the river again farther north. It was a way to take an extra two days in travel, just to avoid a people group you did not like.
And the Samaritans, based on my reading of history, did not mind this arrangement, either. They were glad to be left alone.
In John 4, though, Jesus is headed from Jerusalem back to Galilee. The traditions of the time would have dictated that Jesus take the long way, but He needed something. He needed to break that tradition and make something else happen.
He needed the truth, the Gospel, Himself to not be restricted based on ethnicity. He needed to demolish the human tendency to build divisions and entrench those for generations.
The Gospel is greater than our divisions. The truth is more important than whose ancestors were born where.
So I raise to you this question:
Does Jesus still need something today? Or have we grown up enough?
Today’s Nerd Note: Ever looked at all the uses of “harvest” in the New Testament? Usually, the presentation of “harvest” is as if it’s a positive thing, but often the references to harvest seem to indicate that judgment is coming. Living in farm country, I would point out that this is an accurate view of harvest time. During harvest time is when the crops are judged: are these ready? Are these acceptable?
In this, we should consider this: the harvest is coming, and judgment will come. It is not for us to be the judges, but for us to prepare. For us to fertilize and plant, so that the crop is what it ought to be.