JOHN 4:5-42

Week of March 21-27, 2011

Kimberly Beyer-Nelson

John 4:5-42 (New International Version, ©2011)
5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.[ a])

10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

17 “I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” 

25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” 

26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

The Disciples Rejoin Jesus

27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?” 

28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” 30They came out of the town and made their way toward him. 

31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 

32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” 

33 Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?” 

34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37 Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.” 

Many Samaritans Believe

39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers. 

42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” 

How I love this exchange between the Samaritan woman and Jesus! It is so lively and so rich with verbal play. And while I am quite sure I could write a small book about all the levels and permutations of this short conversation, I want to focus on something very elemental that pervades this passage.

The woman notes to Jesus that they have worshipped on this mountain for generations and the Jews say all must worship in Jerusalem. And he tells her that a time will come that all must worship the Father in spirit and in truth, that because the Father is spirit, that is how He must be worshipped. This is just one of multiple hints throughout this passage that we exist on two planes of reality. One is relative, bound by time, culture, gender, geography, the individual’s mind and experiences. Institutions, organizations, political structures, traditions, dogmas and creeds all populate the relative level of reality and are subject to rounds of change and decay. Indeed, as co-creators with God, and encouraged by Spirit, we are sometimes the necessary destroyers of the threads of relative reality.

But if this is all one sees, the rise and fall of the structures that we turn to for stability and order, we miss the magic of yet another level of reality: the absolute. For there is “water” beneath the idea of water, “food” beneath the presentation or absence of food, “worship” beneath the stiffness of forms, “love” beneath the masks of many lovers, “hearing” beneath the act of hearing. If the very basis of our lives--food, water, love, our senses, our relationships-- are grounded on this Spirit of deeper meaning, we will not thirst, not hunger. We will love without fear, embrace the world and the people around us because every dew drop, every tragedy and every moment of joy points us back to the ultimate reality. Because it is THAT in which we “live and move and have our being.”

Jesus did get tired. He did make mistakes. He did die a horrific death. Ultimate reality does not protect us from the relative, but rather, gives its textures a meaning that is stable, elegant and truth-filled in the maelstrom of this thing called life. And that is living water truly. Amen.