In the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John we learn that Jesus had decided to go back to Galilee from Judea. Then we are told that Jesus had to go through Samaria (v. 4). Upon reading that statement most of us probably assume that there is only one way to get to Galilee from Judea, and it is through Samaria. However, that is not the case. It is true that Samaria offered the slightly shorter route. But the more common passage in Jesus’ day would take one across the Jordan the river, through Perea and back across the Jordan and into Galilee. It was a longer trip, but it allowed the Jews to avoid Samaria, and more importantly, avoid Samaritans.
So, what is the meaning of the statement that Jesus had to go through Samaria? It could mean that because of time constraints Jesus had to go through Samaria. However, it seems strange that there is no mention of being in any hurry if that were the case. If there was another route and time was not an issue the question remains. What does the Scripture mean that Jesus had to go through Samaria?
The more probable explanation lies in a story of Jesus when He was only twelve years old. Mary and Joseph had gone to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover Feast. Their return trip from Jerusalem to Nazareth follows the same path that Jesus chose not to take twenty years later with his disciples. When Joseph and Mary began their trip home they assumed that Jesus was traveling behind them with some of their relatives and friends. The parents traveled a whole day before they realized Jesus was not with them. They returned to Jerusalem and frantically searched for Jesus. It took His parents three days to find Him, and once they did they had some questions for Him. But He answered back with a question of His own, and His response is most telling. He said, “Why did you search for me? Did you not know that I had to be about my Father’s business” (Luke 2:49)?
Interesting, isn’t it? Twice Jesus fails to take the traditional journey around Samaria, and both times we are told that Jesus had to do what He was doing. He had to do it because both times it was His Father’s work that was taking place. And whatever His Father was doing He was more than willing to do. He was not only willing He was compelled, driven by such desire for His the work of His Father that He just had to do it. In so doing He gives us a pattern as well. We are called to not only be willing to go about His business, but to be so driven by our desire to see His work done that becomes compulsory. Something we just had to do.