The Road Less Traveled By
Back when I was a young padawan studying the Word, I had a bad habit of downplaying geography and time as filler. I figured by skimming over environmental details, I'd better discern the “heart” of the passage without being distracted by peripherals.
However, as I would ultimately find, when we consider what the Scriptures has to say about Christ's ministry, we find every word, pronoun and article carrying strategic purpose and placement.
Take John 4 for example, where we find Christ intentionally reaching out to a woman at a well. Before the encounter takes place, we’re given comprehensive context with respect to setting, which connects back to John 3:
Now, let’s flash-forward to John 4:1-6:
“Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), 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. Jacob's well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.”
In these two passages, we’re given three separate locations, which help decorate the backstory to John 4. Although “Judean countryside” may seem vague compared to John the Baptist's location, when given a map of ancient Israel, we can make some noteworthy deductions concerning the Samaritan town of Sychar.
In verse 2, we find Jesus leaving Judea for Galilee; however, we’re not given a specific departing point. If we assume Jesus started close to where John was baptizing (i.e. Aenon near Salim), then instead of a straight northwest track to Galilee, Jesus would have had to travel in a completely separate direction (i.e. southwest) in order to pass through Sychar. Either way, we can infer the likely possibility of Jesus going out of his way to pass straight through Sychar.
Back then, it was culturally unacceptable for a Jew to pass through a Samaritan town, given Jews considered Samaritans to be half-breeds (half-Gentile, half-Jew). In fact, if a Jew was departing Jerusalem on route to Galilee, he would travel a longer distance to circumvent Samaria entirely (see map). Truly, if there was a way for Jews and Samaritans to avoid each other, they took it; however, Jesus could have cared less, as his message of hope knew no bias. What mattered most to him was fulfilling the day’s call, which involved the road less traveled by.
It’s also worth noting the exact time of day as mentioned in verse 6 (i.e. “sixth hour”). Now, the “sixth hour” did not mean Jesus was pulling into Sychar at 6:00 am, as we might assume. The sixth hour back then coincided with the heat of the day. So a weary, tired Jesus pausing at the well makes complete sense. The question is: Why would Jesus time his journey during such an inconvenient time of day? Truly, Jesus was up to something.
When we consider Jesus lived on purpose, then we can see how he had every intention of meeting the woman at the well exactly when he did. She wasn’t just a highly favored recipient of timely chance. Instead, Jesus pursued her with every intention of transforming her life through the revelation of his compassion, even at the cost of his reputation (i.e. It was also culturally unacceptable for Jewish men to speak to Samaritan women). Thus, Jesus' encounter with the woman at the well can be seen as an intentional maneuver, as opposed to a “right place, right time” happenstance.
But what makes John 4 so captivating is two-fold.
When we look at the internal evidence, we find Jesus' obedience developing into intentional evangelism. Hence, by passage’s end, we note the woman operating as a victorious vessel, not an ostracized outcast.
However, the external evidence, as previously mentioned, is equally striking. And when both sides are taken to heart, we understand, in greater measure, how the evangelically intentional life sets hope on fire and reveals truth in a contagious, enlightening way.
Ultimately, no matter what route is analyzed, we find Jesus deliberately pouring life into the cracks of a broken vagrant and replacing her shattered dreams with holy desires…all because Christ embraced the divine appointment with intentional evangelism. In the end, he simply wanted the truth to be known, which is why he wasn’t afraid to transform an adulteress with an errant history into a minster of hope to a despised community. Jesus perfectly knew when she spoke, people would listen. One simply does not rise from such ashes to fearlessly proclaim power without a Jesus encounter.
As a result of the woman's faith, many Samaritans ended up saved:
"Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, 'He told me all that I ever did.' So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, 'It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.' After the two days he departed for Galilee." ~ John 4:39-43 (ESV)
See how geography and time play such a valuable role in the ministry of Christ? Even elements God transcends can help breathe life into desperate circumstances. So if we truly want our lives to speak, then we need to remember living intentionally intentionally changes.
I don't know about you, but I'm going to live with the light turned on.
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