30 June 2017

John 4:1-26

“The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one who is speaking to you.’” (vv. 25-26)

Psalm: Psalm 27


The first four verses of John 4 give us narrative context for the conversation which is about to unfold at Jacob's well. The Pharisees were shifting their attention from John the Baptist to Jesus, so he decided to return to his home country in Galilee, travelling via Samaria, 'foreign' territory. And here, while the disciples were off shopping, he encounters a woman, coming alone to draw water, at the worst, hottest time of day, suggesting that she was something of an outcast in her own community.

Much has been said about the extended conversation which ensues, particularly about Jesus as the breaker-down of barriers, racial, religious and gender. This is a wonderful case study in the meaning of incarnation, the making flesh of the divine. So much is human and earthily corporeal: Jesus' bodily needs for rest and drink; the woman's reputation which Jesus clearly knew; those social, racial and religious divides. The woman tests what he says with intelligent, sensible down-to-earth questions; she wants the physical living water of his metaphor, not least so she won't have to keep coming to the well every day in the heat.

The rich dialogue proceeds at a dizzying pace, and concludes when the disciples return, with one of the key statements in John's Gospel, Jesus confessing his messiahship. It is to this heretical, female, foreign serial monogamist that he first declares his true nature.

Psalm 27 is another confident individual poem to follow Psalm 26, but there is no tinge of arrogance this time: the confidence is in the Lord, not the poet's own merits. Well aware of life's struggles, he (or could it be a she, a sister of the later woman at the well) rejoices in absolute dependence on God, a patient longing based on trusting faith.

Joy to the world is usually associated with Christmas, but is actually about the coming of the Lord more generally and the Lord's sovereignty. It could comfortably sit among the biblical Psalms, celebrating the universal work of God in Christ.

To Ponder

  • How far would you have kept your common-sense calm in the conversation as well as did the Samaritan woman?
  • How does the sublime poetry of Psalm 29 sit with you today?

Bible notes author

The Revd Alan Bolton

The Revd Alan Bolton is a Methodist minister serving in the Connexional Team with responsbility for the Church's complaints and discipline process. He is also a musician and was a member of the group producing new music resources for Methodist worship.