The old rift between Samaritans and Jews began in 930 BCE. Way back then, jealousy ignited a tribal war, which ended in Israel’s split into two countries. The tribe of Judah became the southern kingdom with its capital Jerusalem while the other ten tribes formed the northern kingdom with its capital Samaria (hence Jews of the northern kingdom were called Samaritans). Ongoing conflicts between the Jewish tribes further aggravated their opposition as centuries went by.
It is with those centuries of animosity in mind that we can understand the surprise of a Samaritan woman when Jesus addressed her out of the blue. Jesus was sitting at a well resting after a long day’s journey when He asked her for a drink of water.
Asking for a drink of water seemed harmless enough – and yet a Jew speaking with a Samaritan was highly unusual in the context of their established hostility, not to mention a Jewish man approaching a Samaritan woman. In the ancient Middle East a man would not strike up a conversation with a woman unless she was family. Jesus’ counter-cultural approach rocked the boat in many aspects, and gender equality was one of them. If a woman is more than the extension of her husband, then she is a person of her own right whose input is valued, whose opinion matters, and whose questions are taken seriously.
Here comes a loaded question that must have bothered the Samaritan woman for a while. She asked Jesus point-blank (John 4:19-20):
“‘Sir,’ the woman said, ‘I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.’”
Essentially, the woman was asking Jesus: “Where do we worship God?” This question was based on the assumption that worship is bound to one particular location. However, can the Spirit of God be tied? Jesus did not think so, which is why He replied (John 4:21):
“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. “
If God had to choose a capital, it wouldn’t be Jerusalem or Samaria or any other location on this planet. God capitalizes on our heart. Our heart is stirred by His Spirit whenever He speaks to us – and our heart is the sacred location where God desires to be worshiped.