February 27, 2005

John 4:5-42

He came to a Samaritan town called Sychar, near the land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob's well is there. Tired from his journey, Jesus sat down by the well; it was about noon. Now a Samaritan woman came to draw water and Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink." His disciples had just gone into town to buy some food.

The Samaritan woman said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan and a woman, for a drink?" (For Jews, in fact, have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus replied, "If you only knew the Gift of God! If you knew who it is that asks you for a drink, you yourself would have asked me and I would have given you living water."

11 The woman answered, "Sir, you have no bucket and this well is deep; where is your living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well after he drank from it himself, together with his sons and his cattle?"

13 Jesus said to her, "Those who drink of this water will be thirsty again; 14 but those who drink of the water that I shall give will never be thirsty; for the water that I shall give will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

15 The woman said to him, "Give me this water, that I may never be thirsty and never have to come here to draw water." 16 Jesus said, "Go, call your husband and come back here." 17 The woman answered, "I have no husband." And Jesus replied, "You are right to say: 'I have no husband'; 18 for you have had five husbands and the one you have now is not your husband. What you said is true."

19 The woman then said to him, "I see you are a prophet; tell me this: 20 Our fathers used to come to this mountain to worship God; but you Jews, do you not claim that Jerusalem is the only place to worship God?"

21 Jesus said to her, "Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you shall worship the Father, but that will not be on this mountain or in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship without knowledge, while we Jews worship with knowledge, for salvation comes from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming and is even now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for that is the kind of worshippers the Father wants. 24 God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."

25 The woman said to him, "I know that the Messiah, that is the Christ, is coming; when he comes, he will tell us everything." 26 And Jesus said, "I who am talking to you, I am he."

27 At this point the disciples returned and were surprised that Jesus was speaking with a woman; however, no one said, "What do you want?" or: "Why are you talking with her?" 28 So the woman left her water jar and ran to the town. There she said to the people, 29 "Come and see a man who told me everything I did! Could he not be the Christ?" 30 So they left the town and went to meet him.

31 In the meantime the disciples urged Jesus, "Master, eat." 32 But he said to them, "I have food to eat that you don't know about." 33 And the disciples wondered, "Has anyone brought him food?" 34 Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of the One who sent me and to carry out his work.

35 You say that in four more months it will be the harvest; now, I say to you, look up and see the fields white and ready for harvesting. 36 People who reap the harvest are paid for their work, and the fruit is gathered for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.

37 Indeed the saying holds true: 'One sows and another reaps.' 38 I sent you to reap where you didn't work or suffer; others have worked and you are now sharing in their labors."

39 In that town many Samaritans believed in him when they heard the woman who declared, "He told me everything I did." 40 So, when they came to him, they asked him to stay with them and Jesus stayed there two days. 41 After that many more believed because of his own words 42 and they said to the woman, "We no longer believe because of what you told us; for we have heard for ourselves and we know that this is the Savior of the world."

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•            4.1 LIVING WATER

The Jews hated the Samaritans. In addition, talking with any woman in a public place was looked upon with disapproval in Jewish culture at that time. Jesus, overcoming racial and social prejudices, began to talk with a Samaritan woman. In the person of this woman he met the common people of Palestine. The woman was from a different province and belonged to a rival cult, but both shared the same promises of God and both were waiting for a Savior.

The first concern of the woman was to quench her thirst. The ancestors of the Jewish people walked with their flocks from one water source to another. The most famous Jews (like Jacob) dug wells, and around these wells the desert began to live. This fact was like a parable; people look everywhere for something to quench their thirst; but they are condemned to find nothing but stagnant waters. Those who make tanks to preserve water find that the tanks crack (see commentary on Gen 26). Jesus brings the living water, which is God's gift to us, his children: the gift of the Holy Spirit (7:37).

When there is water in the desert, although it does not surface, it is noticeable because of the verdant vegetation. The same happens with us when we truly live: our actions become better, our decisions more free, our thoughts more directed towards the essential. The living water from which all these fruits flow is not seen: this is eternal life, against which death can do nothing.

The second concern of the woman is to know: Where is truth to be found? Jesus tells her: You have had five husbands… This symbolizes the common destiny of the townspeople who have served many masters or "husbands" and, in the end, do not have anyone whom they recognize as their Lord. To begin with, what is the true religion?

The Samaritans had their Bible, somewhat different from that of the Jews, and in the town itself, a few kilometers from the Well of Sychar, was their Temple, which rivaled that of Jerusalem. Jesus maintains that the Jewish religion is the true one: Salvation comes from the Jews. In this he does not share the position of those who say: "It matters little what Church we belong to, since they are all the same." Nevertheless, although one has the good fortune of following the true religion, he has to arrive at the spiritual knowledge of God (v. 23). The Spirit, whom we receive, helps us worship God according to the truth. The Father seeks such worshipers who enter into intimate personal contact with him.

Spirit and truth (v. 24). God does not need the words of our prayers, but looks for simplicity, beauty and nobility in our spirit. The Spirit of God cannot be communicated except to those who seek the truth and live according to truth in a world of deception.

In the final analysis, the Samaritan woman's account is a parable of our own lives. Each one of us is in some way the Samaritan woman. What happened at the well of Jacob describes our own encounter with Jesus; the ways by which Jesus led the woman to recognize and love him are the ways by which Jesus, step-by-step, accomplishes our own conversion. In the end, the woman became Jesus' disciple, and through this very experience she also became Jesus' apostle: Many in that town believed in Jesus because of the woman (v. 39). This Jesus experience is the source of the apostolate. To evangelize is to share this experience with others.

Four more months … (v. 35). Like the harvest, the people who follow Jesus are also maturing.

People who reap the harvest are paid for their work: this Jesus' maxim has many applications. Verse 36 possibly refers to the shared joy of the Father who sowed and of the Son who will harvest. In a different way, in verse 37, Jesus and his own are aware that they do not work in vain. Others have worked: Jesus refers to those who came before him, and especially to John the Baptist.

[The Community Christian Bible]

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1. I sometimes wonder what Jesus learned from the temptation scenes in the synoptic gospels. Again Jesus is tired. Where once he was asked make an empty wilderness into bread, he now asks a woman to turn her empty jar into water for him to drink. He goes on to indicate he has power from God and should be worshipped. He also has the security of being able to interpret history, tradition, and scripture which is far more powerful than calling on angels to protect his toes and if she would accept his preeminence she could be given a realm to control. Jesus the tempter instead of the tempted.

However, when she acceded and asked for unthirstifying water, Jesus does not claim her soul but sets her on a renewed understanding of community. She goes to bring others back for the gift she desired for herself alone. Might that very going forward indicate she had the refreshment she needed? That would have been quite a different refreshment than what she would ordinarily have put in the still empty, and now forgotten, jar.

2. An alternative picture is a tired Jesus playing games with a double nobody - Samaritan and woman. He plays games with water images and mountain images. Water shifts from well water to living, flowing water. Mountains, when seen from above are pretty much alike -- we lose the perspective of height -- one is the same as another and so a new focus on spirit rather than right or wrong has a new chance to enter in.

Additional games are played with the disciples after the woman left with a new perspective. One sows, another reaps. Spirit sows, Flesh reaps. Prophets sow, you reap. You sow, others reap.

3. A result is that this Samaritan Woman (Photina) comes to see how Jesus' games put her life in perspective. After she invites others to listen to Jesus they respond that they also have heard their life put into perspective. There is great rejoicing and more outsiders have become part of a new community.

Now comes the question of whether this is a parable of our lives. Well? Have you heard a perspective from above that sets your life in a new perspective? If so, what vehicle of sharing a source of new perspective for others will you use evangelistically? If not, where did it fall short or what barrier is blocking you?

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