The story of the Samaritan woman has been a powerful draw for me ever since I began to pray with scripture. It’s probably my favorite gospel story. Yet, I have never been able to say why that is so.
I’m guessing that it is something about the character of the woman and her story. A story that I understand to be the story of a woman who is the quintessential outsider. A woman who can only exist at the boundaries of her own society. In it, but not of it. This woman, who has had five husbands and now fornicates with one who is not her husband, lacks essential respectability. And simultaneously, she is a religious pariah to the dominant religious establishment that surrounds her and her homeland. This woman who can only exist at the margins. Outside the bounds that hold both respectable society and respectable religion together.
Jews hated Samaritans. In fact, they despised them.
There were a number of reasons why they held them in such contempt:
- First, they considered them schismatics because they had built a rival temple to the one in Jerusalem.
- Second, they were seen as heretics because they took only the five books of the Torah to be their scriptures.
- Third, they were a mixed breed, people of questionable ancestry who had intermarried with foreigners and had been influenced by heathen customs and practices.
- And fourth, they refused to follow Jewish rituals or keep Kosher.
The very mention of Samaritans could turn the stomach of a Jew. Jews hated Samaritans – despised them – and avoided them in every possible way. Jesus knew this, which is why he makes a Samaritan the hero of his best-known parable; he’s the one, you remember, who stopped and helped the beaten man by the side of the road after both a priest and a Levite had passed him by. It’s also why he points out that when ten lepers were cured, the only one returned to him to give thanks was a Samaritan.