John 3: 1-3
Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.’
Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.
John 4: 3-7
So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.
Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.
When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, ‘Will you give me a drink?
In John 3 we read about Jesus’ encounter with a religious professional called Nicodemus. This devout, educated Pharisee was well-known and widely respected in the community. Yet he sensed that in Jesus he might find an experience of God which he knew was lacking in his life. Jesus tells him plainly that he must be born again to see the Kingdom of God.
Then in the very next chapter we read about Jesus’ interaction with a woman whose credentials and character couldn’t be more different than Nicodemus’. She was a Samaritan, an immoral woman who, because of her bad reputation, had to fetch water from the well in the heat of the day, when the other women were gone.
I think that John deliberately placed these two figures side by side to show that the gospel is for everyone. Regardless of gender, religious background, race, education, wealth, or social position - anyone and everyone may be saved through faith in Jesus Christ. His grace is radically indiscriminate and scandalously inclusive.
The other difference I notice is that Nicodemus came seeking Jesus secretly at night but the woman was sought by Jesus publicly during the day. Notice that the Bible says:
“Now he had to go through Samaria.” (4: 4)
That’s not entirely true. He didn’t “have to go” through that region. In fact, for any devout Jew this was not the preferred route to travel from Jerusalem to Galilee. They would normally take a longer, less direct way around the region so as to avoid passing through the hated Samaria and mixing with its despised inhabitants. The hostility between Jews and Samaritans had existed for centuries since, during the exile, a group of Jews had inter-married with foreigners. These Samaritans were seen as religious half-breeds who followed some aspects of the Jewish religion but mixed it with detestable pagan practices. They were considered to be ethnically polluted, religiously confused, and morally debased.
Yet we read here however that Jesus “had to go through Samaria”. If geographically he could have avoided the region, in what sense did he “have to go” this way?
Jesus lived in such an immediate and intimate communion that he heard the Father clearly telling him that there was a divine appointment in Samaria that he “had to” keep. There was a guilt-ridden, love-starved woman who needed to know the Father’s deep affection and compassion towards her.
One old preacher, Donald Barnhouse, compared this detour by Jesus to an American soldier who returns from overseas and travels from San Francisco to his home in Boston. Along the way, he has to stop in Miami. Why is such a detour needed? He answers, "Because my fiancée lives there!" Likewise, Jesus was compelled to go through Samaria because of love.
Most of us, including me, are far too concerned with our own plans, itineraries and getting to our destination by the quickest and easiest route possible. What would happen if more of us were like Jesus in this story? What if we were prepared to listen intently and obey the Father when he said, “stop here” or “go there”? We would have so many more divine appointments and experience so many miracles that our lives would become a daily adventure.
Why not ask the Father today if there is anyone he wants you to speak to, make contact with, show generosity towards or anywhere He wants you to go. If you get a sense of Him speaking, don’t overthink it too much. You’ll talk yourself out of it. Act in simple obedience and see what He does through you.