In the story of the Woman at the well, we see a classic contrast between the will of God and the practices of organized religion. And by the way, unless your church lines up with the hierarchical principles, the locus of authority, the protocols and the ministries of the FIRST CENTURY CHURCH, it is part of “Organized Religion.” (If your church happens to be a reflection of the First Century Church, God’s model church, congratulations are in order. Your church is one in many thousands, maybe millions.)
Here is the crux of this story of the Woman at the Well for me: the Samaritan woman who came to the well had to have crossed paths with every one of Jesus’ disciples as she made her way to the well on the outskirts of Sychar as the disciples were heading into Sychar. In the Jewish tradition, it is evident that the disciples looked down their noses at the Samaritan woman and kept their distance and probably avoided eye contact. Jesus, however, saw her as a human being in need of salvation. Jesus was expressing God’s will (John 4:34). The disciples were mired in the rituals of organized religion, just as so many who would consider themselves followers of Jesus Christ are today.
So deep is this religious pit we call organized religion (pick your denomination) that the disciples’ reaction upon seeing that Jesus had engaged this woman at the well is in fact far beyond what our English language Bibles reveal. One sense of the word “marveled” (v. 27) is in fact, “rendered immovable by astonishment.” In fact, these men were speechless. But this was probably not the first time. What did they think when Jesus called Mary of Magdala (Mary Magdalene)? She was a prostitute to the Roman army — a whore that other whores themselves held in disdain. Mary Magdalene would later be accorded what may be the highest honor ever given to a human being: she was the first witness to the Resurrection, and the one to announce it to the world, thus making the Easter story her story, humanly speaking. In the story of the of the Woman Taken in Adultery in John Chapter 8, we also see jesus engaging with compassion a woman whom organized religion there present with authority literally wanted to stone to death. These are all accounts of Jesus taking on organized religion. They are also prima facie evidence that His very own disciples were a part of that religious edifice, and provides for us an insight into Jesus’ frequent exasperation and disappointment with his own disciples. Here is then the question I would pose to churches today: It is 1985 years later. Has anything changed?