"Jesus left Judea and started back to Galilee. But he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar . . . Jacob's well was there." - John 4:1-6
Of course he didn't have to go through Samaria. Most Jews wouldn't have—it was enemy territory. There were routes back to Galilee that avoided Samaria. Jesus could've chosen one of them. But no, the gospel says, he "had to" go through.
The Jesus we meet in John's gospel is a driven man, driven by the Spirit and the Spirit alone, coming and going solely according to God's purpose and pleasure. If scripture says he had to go through Samaria, then it was inescapable, a summons. He could do no other.
Turning the page, we discover why. Someone was waiting for him there, a woman at a well. She was waiting for him without knowing he was coming, without knowing who he was, but waiting all the same—to speak and be known, to drink new water from a different well, to set down her jar, to be released for running, for telling, for showing the way.
He had to go. To her.
If we're not spiritually compelled like that, agile and swift when the Spirit moves, maybe it's because we consider too much what could happen to us, what it might cost, if we go through Samaria, and don't consider enough what it will cost that someone who's surely waiting for us there if we don't. The conversation that will never happen because we didn't sit down, tired and thirsty, at their well. The things they'll never know about themselves, their truth, their beauty, their worth. The un-bestowed mercy, the freedom denied, the withheld joy.
Compel me, Spirit of God. Make me have to go. Someone in Samaria is waiting for me. Amen.
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.