Today’s reading: John 4:1-26
This is fast becoming one of my favorite episodes of Scripture. It starts out with this little interesting tidbit:
… he left Judea and departed again to Galilee. He had to pass through Samaria.
The fact is that the route for Judea to Galilee did not go through Samaria. In fact, the normal route specifically went around Samaria. The Jews and the Samaritans had much animosity for each other. The Samaritans had once been part of the Jewish nation. However, during one of the Old Testament episodes of conquest, the Samaritans had been defeated. Rather than cling to their faith they had succumbed to intermarrying and adopting pagan practices. For this reason, the Jews viewed them with disdain. The Samaritans, in turn, felt that the Jews had abandoned them and didn’t appreciate their plight.
It is to these half-brothers of the Hebrews that Jesus now goes. He doesn’t cut through Samaria because the topography or the route requires it. He “had to” go there because he has to reunite the two halves of the Jewish family.
Next, notice how Jesus engages the woman. He begins with a normal conversation, simply asking for a drink of water. He does not immediately confront her with her sins. After engaging her in conversation, he draws her attention to important things. Things she would want to know, like the Lord and salvation. It is only then after he takes her to great heights that he raises the issue of her sins. This is the model for all evangelization. Jesus fills her up with the good and then uses the good and holy to crowd out the bad.
Then we learn of the woman’s sin, she has had five husbands. I have no doubt that this scene is an actual historical event, that this woman was a real woman, and that she had had in her life five husbands. But this sin also has a symbolic component. The five husbands are the five pagan Gods the Samaritans had embraced. Thus, at this point, the woman stands in for all the Samaritans. We see again the inference that the covenant relationship between God and his people is one of marriage and straying from this relationship is one of adultery.
Next, we see this exchange:
The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ); when he comes, he will show us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
This is one of only two times (the other being at his trial) that Jesus affirmatively accepts the title of Messiah.
Next, the woman leaves to go tell her people what she has discovered. Notice, she leaves behind the water jars. These jars would have been earthen clay vessels, suggesting the leaving behind of weak earthly concerns to announce and follow the Lord.
Tomorrow: John 4:27-54