This is a LONG passage. I doubt many pastors will try to actually preach the whole thing—especially those of us who have Communion to serve as well. But, I guess it’s do-able. Rather, I’ve broken up the passage into manageable pieces. Here are those pieces and what I find:
4:1-6 – This, I’ll paraphrase quickly...and get on to the dialogue.
4:7-18 – We have the beginning of a very interesting conversation between Jesus and a Samaritan woman (What was her name? Can we call her ‘Sam’...like, short for Samantha?) The talk begins around ‘water,’ and like the conversation Jesus had with Nick (John 3), there’s are two planes of discourse. Like Jesus talked of rebirth with Nick, this talk of ‘living water’ just goes over Sam’s head—she doesn’t get it. Some may make the mistake of thinking that Jesus is interested in just the spiritual, but I think he wants to help people see that there is more than just the physical. After all, Jesus is tired and thirsty—he really does want a drink of water...plain, old, wet water. But, that conversation serves as a segue for something deeper than the well and more satisfying than the water.
4:16-18 – This is a strange and rather abrupt change of direction: “Go, call your husband and come back.” And then we have that implicating reality set before us: “...You have had five husbands, and the man you now have it not your husband....” Woah! Here is where in my childhood and early adulthood the pastor would go off on this ‘woman of ill repute,’ this brazen, unfaithful woman. But, those pastors and preachers may have jumped the gun.
Here’s what I see. Later in this passage, this woman proves herself no dummy—she knows theology, belief and practice. In fact, to read the rest of the conversation one would get the idea that this woman is in fact fairly well-read when it comes to issues of faith and may even be a faithful follower of God...in the Samaritan practice. If that is so, she may be so conservative and faithful that when her first husband died and they had had no children, she actually married his brother...and when he died...and when died.... So, multiple marriages may even be a sign of faithfulness rather than unfaithfulness! Anyway, she perceives that Jesus is a prophet, and the conversation goes theological.
4:19-26 – Many focus on this part of the discourse...and with good reason. Jesus, who has just recently cleared the temple, posits that God ‘is leaving the building.’ In fact, God is leaving ALL buildings...at least those of stone and mortar. Worship is not about place; worship is about heart. The Jews no longer have a corner on worship space. Now all space is become worship space. Worship begins within, not without—in spirit and in truth. And, this conversation between Jesus and Sam certainly has been focused on truth. This passage ends with Jesus making a reality-shaking self-revelation—I am the messiah!—that is sort of missed, brushed aside, falls flat because the noisy disciples appear on the scene....
4:27-30 – The disciples show up ‘looking cross-eyed’ at Jesus. He’s talking to a woman...a Samaritan woman. But, are these feelings that seem to come through the text those of the disciples...or of John the writer? John already has revealed his hand, showing that he likes to add commentary here and there. Is this some of John coming through? Well, no matter—we can only discuss it and not find a definitive answer. Seems like a good time to leave the scene, so Sam runs off to town to tell others about this person she’s met.
4:31-38 – These verses practically relate a story within a story, a theological discourse within a discourse. Since this passage takes off talking about food and harvests, I’m not going to read this on Sunday nor will I tackle the themes. This passage might be a sermon in itself someday.
4:39-42 – That verse 39 is amazing: “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.” Here, in the opening chapters of John’s Gospel, we find the first evangelist, first missionary...and she’s a woman of Samaria. Okay...right, Andrew and Phillip also told their brothers...each one brought one. But, here’s a woman who brings part of her village to Jesus...or who brings Jesus to her village. Jesus crossed borders in reaching out to Sam, but Sam crossed borders as well, boldly taking up the challenge to engage in conversation with a Jewish man at the end of the day by the village well...and then tells the village about her cross-cultural, border-crossing adventure.
What do we take away? Oh, let’s cross borders—talk to the shunned, engage people who are other, chat with folks at the local watering hole. Let’s not get so caught up in where we worship...but let’s get caught up in worship. And, if someone comes and tells us they’ve found something good, we ought to get up off our duffs and see what all the hoopla is about—it might save our lives.
(Go HERE to read my intro to this series.)