If I had to walk from one town to another, I’d get out a map and work out the shortest possible route, avoiding any unnecessary effort or risk. Astonishingly, however, Jesus often took rather curious detours, taking great risks in order to have beautiful encounters.
One such journey is recorded in John 4, where we read that Jesus “left Judea and went back once more to Galilee”, a trip of about 70 miles. He chose to walk back to Galilee through Samaria, however, which was not the Jews’ route of choice, as it was fraught with danger.
Why would Jesus go through the depths of Samaria, taking a route that involved potential danger and extra time?
I believe it was because of a conversation he then had, out in the midday sun, with a woman collecting water at a well.
The woman shouldn’t have been there, Jesus shouldn’t have been there, and they certainly shouldn’t have spoken – but there they were, talking together in the heat of the day. At first, Jesus’ pressing need for water is met by the woman. But in return, the woman’s spiritual need for the “spring of water welling up to eternal life” is met by Jesus.
The Samaritan woman encounters the Messiah. Jesus’ detour to Samaria, his out-of-the-way route, leads him to a woman of poor reputation – a woman who then tells the whole village about her encounter with Jesus, saying, “Come, see a man who told me everything I’ve ever done. Could this be the Messiah?” (John 4:29)
This truth could be taken into Samaria, and done so by not only a woman, but one of poor reputation.
Jesus chose his route, he chose the place and time, and he chose the person – the person who would recognise who he really was.
Because of Jesus’ detour, the truth could be taken into Samaria and done so by not only a woman, but one of poor reputation. I wonder, was she the first to the carry the good news; the first evangelist?
This story isn’t the only time Jesus shocked people, particularly by treating women with far more value than they were given in society.
He once had a meal at the home of Simon the Leper, quite shocking enough, but during the meal “a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.” (Mark 14:3). Her actions thoroughly disrupted the meal and immediately caused a heated debate. What did she think she was doing, and wasn’t Jesus going to stop her?
Wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her. - Mark 14:9
No, Jesus had no intention of stopping her, ridiculing her or sending her away. In fact, he makes the most profound statement to affirm her: “wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.’”(Mark 14:9)
We may not immediately see this woman as someone who Jesus used to proclaim the good news. However, Jesus’ statement shows us that her act of care and extravagant worship – a symbolic act of anointing for burial – was proclaiming to those who chose to see it, that Jesus was the chosen one. By her actions she was saying, “pay attention”, and by Jesus’ words, he was saying, “I value this woman, whose actions speak much louder than words, for they will be known throughout the world.”
Jesus’ final surprising journey was, of course, to the cross.
He took the route of greatest pain, up the steepest of metaphorical hills to Golgotha, to fulfil his purpose. Many had followed him over the previous three years, both men and women, and some followed him on this last route to the cross. But it is the women we read of in John who are at the foot of the cross, it’s the women who have the role of anointing Jesus’ body in the tomb, and subsequently it is a woman who first sees him risen from the dead. Mary is given the most precious of gifts to share with her brothers and sisters waiting in confusion: the gift of Jesus’ victory over death.
A Samaritan woman of poor reputation, a woman giving publicly and sacrificially, and a woman who had been a faithful follower – each were entrusted with the greatest gift: the gift of telling the world about Jesus, our saviour.
So why not you?
This article is part of our #InspiringWomen series.