One day, while passing through the disreputable district of Samaria, Jesus encountered a woman at a well. You know the story. The woman, uncomfortable at the direction of the conversation, switched to a religious point: “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship” (John 4:20).
If you think this controversy was put to rest in the time of Jesus, you might be greatly surprised at the answer.
Samaria – the Northern Kingdom of Israel
The death of King Solomon in the tenth century BC brought about the divided kingdom. Samaria was the capital of the territory occupied by the ten tribes of the north. The hostility that existed between Samaria and Judah was such that the northern kings were unwilling for their subjects to worship at the Jerusalem Temple. Instead, they set up a system of sacrifice in their own territory.
In Jesus’ day, the Samaritans continued to practice their own version of Israelite faith, even to the point of sacrificing, not in Jerusalem, but at Mt. Gerizim, which is about 40 miles north of the Holy City. This was the source of contention to which the woman at the well referred. And whereas the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem spelled the end of all sacrifice for the rest of the Jewish world, this was not true for the Samaritans. And this remains the case, even up to the present time.
The Samaritan Passover Today
Most of the Jewish world celebrates the Passover sitting at a table. On the Seder plate, we find the shank bone of a lamb, placed there as a reminder of the sacrifice that can no longer be made because of the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple.
This is not so with the Samaritans. Although their numbers have dwindled to perhaps a few dozen families, today’s Samaritans celebrate Passover outdoors, under the light of the full moon, carrying out the injunction of the first Passover as faithfully as possible: “And thus you shall eat it: with a belt on your waist, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. So you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD’s Passover” (Exodus 12:11).
Before this, however, the Passover lamb must be slain. At around sunset, the men who head their households bring their lambs to the area for sacrifice. Then, at a given signal, the lambs’ throats are cut and the blood is drained from their carcasses. After that, the lambs are skinned and roasted for the meal, which commences around midnight.
The Samaritan Sacrifice and the Lamb of God
There are few of us now who kill and dress our meat. For this reason alone, the bloody procedure of the Samaritan Passover would be a sobering experience for most of us. But added to this is the even greater significance of the event itself. The Samaritan sacrifice transports us back to a time when the slaughter of the lamb and its accompanying sights and smells would remind the worshipper of how costly sin actually is.
How much more are we inspired to think of the sacrifice of Jesus, the Lamb of God, as He shed His precious blood for us?