Saturday, February 27th
John 4:1-26 (27-42)
This story of a meeting between Jesus and an intelligent woman underscores his appealing personality and introduces a complicated, engaging Samaritan.
Jesus had been baptized and called “the Lamb of God.” He had recruited disciples. He had performed his first miracle. In the Temple at Jerusalem, he had acted violently, both verbally and physically, after observing unsavory activities. Jesus and his disciples had left Jerusalem and gone into Judaea. There large crowds had alarmed certain Pharisees. So, Jesus and his followers had turned north toward home, toward Galilee. Their route had taken them through Samaria, a region unwelcoming to Jews but perhaps safer than Judaea for the followers of Jesus. In Samaria, Jesus had chosen to visit a famous well which was important to both Jews and Samaritans. He had sent his disciples to look for food while he, thirsty, sat down beside the well.
His disciples absent, Jesus has his first unchaperoned conversation with a woman who is not his mother. Jesus begins by asking the woman for a drink of water. She states that a Jew has no business asking such a favor of a Samaritan woman. She takes aggressiveness up a notch by saying that a Jew’s request is annoying because this well had been given to the Samaritans by Jacob. Jesus responds that the water from this well was after all just water – which can quench thirst for only a little while – whereas he can give her a “water” of eternal value. The woman in turn replies, mockingly, that she would like to have some of that water so that she won’t have to keep coming back to this well. Jesus, having complete knowledge about everybody he meets, replies that if she wants to learn about him, she should go and get her husband.
Taken aback, the woman blurts out, deceptively, that she has no husband. Jesus disorients her further by replying that she has had five husbands and that she is living with still another man. Astonished, the woman recognizes Jesus as a prophet. There follows a short argument about where God is to be properly worshiped (here, on this mountain sacred to the Samaritans, or in the Temple in Jerusalem). Jesus declares that worshiping the Father “in spirit and truth” is the important thing. Where worship takes place is not important. The woman declares her faith that the Messiah will come. Jesus stuns her, saying, “I am he.”
The return of the disciples with food interrupts a conversation that Jesus and the woman find so engaging that they both want it to continue. Not satisfied with abandoning their conversation, both Jesus and the woman act, she by persuading her neighbors to come and listen to Jesus, Jesus by persuading his disciples that the time is now ripe for making converts among the Samaritans. Many Samaritans hear Jesus themselves and accept him as the Savior of the world.
This is the story of the first Christian missionary activity.