4:1Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, “Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John” 2 –although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized– 3 he left Judea and started back to Galilee. 4 But he had to go through Samaria.

5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 

Galilee is situated in the north of Israel, Judea in the south; they were separated in Jesus’ day by Samaria. It is true that, in order to travel from Judea to Galilee, the most direct route would be through Samaria. But, pious Jews travelling between Judea and Galilee would commonly make a detour to avoid putting foot on Samaritan soil. The people of Samaria were viewed as unclean due to their intermarriage with settlers from Mesopotamia and Syria. To avoid Samaria was to avoid the taint of association with those whose ethnic purity and religious practice were suspect.

When John the Gospel writer wrote that Jesus “had to go through Samaria” he was speaking about something other than geographical necessity. Technically, Jesus did not have to travel through Samaria to get to Galilee. His choice of route seems to have been in response to some other deeper inner imperative. His travel plan contravened social expectation, religious tradition and ritual law. But, rather than allowing his life to be directed by these external rules Jesus entered this territory that he would have been taught all his life to view as ritually unclean, a place to be avoided.

Throughout the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry, we see Jesus consistently responding to an inner compulsion rather than being driven by social convention or expectation. Jesus lived in response to an inner motivation rather than constantly reacting to outer circumstances. He was free because he was unwilling to give up his life to the demands of external structures and regulations.

Paul wrote,

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. (Galatians 5:1)

The bible is a tool to help us develop this inner sensitivity to that source of guidance that is free to live independent of external forces.

What other practices might help me find that freedom for which Christ has set me free? How do I find my way to that place where I am free of the need to conform to external expectations and outer demands and live in response to the inner truth I know?