Friday

11 January 2019

John 4:7-26

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.’ (v 25-26)

Psalm: Psalm 27

Background

The story of the Samaritan woman’s encounter with Jesus is fraught with tension. Religious differences split Samaritans and Jews apart. Both worshipped God in slightly different ways, and over centuries their disagreement about details had built into full-blown conflict. Observant Jews would have regarded Samaritans, and their water-containers, as unclean.

The gender difference is also significant. The woman came to the well at the ‘wrong’ time of day, outcast from the groups who would come in the cool of morning and evening. Later in the story, we learn the reason for her isolation, as a woman who had a number of unstable relationships (v 18). Recent thinking suggests that she was perhaps a victim of domestic violence, moving from one abusive relationship to the next. She was especially vulnerable in this setting, outside the city by herself.

No wonder, then, that she treated Jesus with some caution. His first words to her might well have confused her further, but (unlike Nicodemus in the previous chapter) she persevered. There is a gap between her literal approach to the everyday problem of water in a hot, dry climate, and Jesus’ metaphorical use of the image of living water.

Jesus appears to change the subject at verse 16. The link in his words may lie in a reference to Jeremiah 2:2-13. Here, the Lord reminds Israel that, once, she loved God as a bride loves her husband, but now she has turned away, forsaking God, the fountain of living water (Jeremiah 2:13). So underneath Jesus’ awareness of her complex marital situation lies another allusion to the ‘living water’ that God brings. This ‘living water’ will enable all people to worship together, regardless of their differences (v 23). Finally, the woman found her way through the web of allusions to make sense of Jesus’ words and to realise that she knew the name of the one who came with the promise of living water. Are we talking about Messiah? she wondered, and Jesus affirmed her guess. This un-named Samaritan woman is the first person, in John’s Gospel, to recognise Jesus for who he is. There may well have been Samaritans in the Christian community John knew, and this story must have meant a great deal to them as they sought to build an inclusive community.

 

To Ponder:

  • What difference could Jesus’ offer of living water make in your life?
  • What are the points of tension and conflict in our society? How might this story help us to overcome them?

Bible notes author

The Revd Caroline Wickens

Caroline is a Methodist presbyter, currently serving as superintendent of the Manchester Circuit. She is married to Andrew, an Anglican priest, and has two children.