Gospel of John 4:16-45
16 “Go and call your husband and then come back here,” said Jesus to her. 17 “I haven’t got a husband!” the woman answered. “You are quite right in saying, ‘I haven’t got a husband’,” replied Jesus, 18 “for you have had five husbands and the man you have now is not your husband at all. Yes, you spoke the simple truth when you said that.” Phillips
First, notice verse 17. The woman drops all pretense of respect and gives him a blunt—’none of your business’—answer.
We might imagine the woman’s mouth dropping open. After setting her up for the Living Water, he now sets her up for a bit of shock therapy. God may not have told Jesus earlier what to expect. If not, Jesus knew when he saw her there in the middle of the day. God must have told him about all the men. It was important for the woman to know that Jesus had the details right; he was not guessing.
It is easy to miss that Jesus first asked her, a woman, to go witness to a man, her ‘husband.’ While in Hebrew theory, a woman was the equal of her husband, it was not practiced in the first century. Few women would dare to beg their husbands to go see this stranger at the well. The next time in the Gospel Jesus requests a woman go witness to men is in the Garden at the Resurrection.
I think Jesus, at this point, believes the woman is very close to grasping what he has been saying. Let us see her response.
19 “Sir,” said the woman again, “I can see that you are a prophet! 20 Now our ancestors worshipped on this hill-side, but you Jews say that Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship—” Phillips
Now the woman is respectful again, shocked but respectful.
Because Jesus exposed her sinful life, she first admits that he must be able to read tea leaves or something. And then she tries to change the subject. ‘Sure God, I’m with you, but I’ve got the Superbowl pre-pre-pre-game show to watch.’ It is so easy for us to try to change the subject with God.Because Jesus exposed her sinful life, she first admits that he must be able to read tea leaves or something. And then she tries to change the subject. ‘Sure God, I’m with you, but I’ve got the Superbowl pre-pre-pre-game show to watch.’ It is so easy for us to try to change the subject with God.
Actually, this change of subject is a good question. Earlier, she defended her homeland as belonging to Jacob. Now, she wants to know who is right.
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.” NIV
At first JAt first, Jesus seems to say Jews are superior; but we see it is only in a technical way. What the woman will soon understand is that Jesus comes into the world as a Jew, so it is through the Jews that salvation comes. But being saved has nothing to do with being either Jewish or Samaritan; it is all about Jesus.
In verse 23, Jesus adds and has now come. The woman does not see it yet, but Jesus has just told her he is the one who is bringing about the shattering-all-stereotypes change. The true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth. Let that sink in. Spirit. Truth.
Think about how you worship God. For most Christians, it is about Sunday services. Music, preaching, communion, go out to eat. Where is the Holy Spirit? That is the difficulty.
Deep inside every human is a kind of tuning fork that begins to vibrate when the Spirit is ‘speaking’ to us. Most people never notice, let alone respond. Jesus reads the messages like Morris code. Peter and John had been taught by Jesus how to respond when they sensed the vibrations. Listen, look, think, respond. Who is near you? What is happening? How do you think I would have reacted?
We must constantly read the Scriptures to understand better how God wants us to deal with others. If the Living Water fills us, God expects us to become a fountain that shares that Living Water with all we meet.
Jesus says that neither Mt. Gerizim nor Jerusalem is necessary anymore, nor America, nor any other country, city, province, or village. Everyone can worship God where they are by getting in touch with God’s Spirit.
Jesus told this stunning news to a sinful woman and asked her to tell men about it. I suspect that Jesus sat at the well for a time with the disciples explaining what he had first presented to the woman. But there is more to come for her.
25 The woman said, “Well, at least I know that the Messiah will come—the one they call Christ—and when he does, he will explain everything to us.”
26 Then Jesus told her, “I am the Messiah!” TLV OR “I who speak to you am he.” ESV The Greek reads, I am, He speaking to you.
This statement is the first “I Am” by Jesus. There are seven in John, so watch for them. This time is an exception; it is the only time in GJohn Jesus openly claims to be the Messiah. As the Baptizer did, he never rejects the title, but he seldom calls himself Messiah.
Luke 4:1-2 has Jesus reading from the scroll of Isaiah. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed;19 to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.”…. “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
We take it to mean that Jesus claims to be the Messiah, but it is a roundabout way of doing it. He actually claims that ‘today I am anointed by God to be the promised One.’ Notice the word Messiah does not appear in the text, nor does it appear in the actual text of Isaiah 61:1-2. The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor;he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives,and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,and the day of vengeance of our God;to comfort all who mourn; ESV
The text goes on, but we can stop with the semicolon.
Unlike the account in Luke, in GJohn Jesus says, ‘I Am.’ I Am is God’s name for Himself. So, Jesus claims to be ‘I Am, Jr.’ Yes, that is a little flippant, but it suits the Father/Son relationship. This exchange with the woman is the only time in the Gospels that Jesus states bluntly he is the Messiah. Jesus does come close in Matthew 23:10. “Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah.” NIV (Matthew uses the title, Messiah, twenty times, even more than GJohn.)
27 Now at that very moment his disciples came back. They were shocked because he was speaking with a woman. However, no one said, “What do you want?” or “Why are you speaking with her?” 28 Then the woman left her water jar, went off into the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Surely he can’t be the Messiah, can he?” 30 So they left the town and began coming to him. NET
‘At that very moment,’ is another detail that makes GJohn more personal. We do not see this kind of firsthand description when reading the Synoptics. They were writing stories told to them by people who heard them from others. After thirty years, small details dropped out. Our memories also tend to do that over time, but not so much for John.
We again are reminded of the ageless customs of the Middle East (as we now call the region). Outside of the home, men do not talk to women. The disciples are shocked and upset but afraid to ask their Master what is happening. Most likely, at this time, they have never seen Jesus crossing the solid line separating men and women. Jesus changes the rules during his ministry. We see him talking with women (usually in their homes), and we see women becoming disciples.
Another detail: she left her water jar behind. Think back to the conversation between the woman and Jesus. What was she doing as they talked? It is unlikely that she just stood there; it is more likely she dropped the bag down the well and tipped the water into the larger water jar. We know she had a jar because it is mentioned here, and no woman would walk to the well to get a small bag of water; they always took the largest water jar they could carry.
She is excited, is it possible she has met the Messiah. But doubt still lingers.
She is an excellent example to follow. Do not wait for the writing on the wall, the voice whispering in the wind, the tongues as of fire to descend; just get on with the mission work. Remember that Mother Teresa had doubts every day, doubts even whether God existed. She did what Jesus asked of her, even with her doubts.
Notice too that the Samaritan woman became the first Christian female preacher.
31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. ESV
Jesus dipped into his secret food source.
Understand that first century Jews ate two meals a day with a midday snack; no, not a Snicker. Working men and travelers carried a small bag containing small loaves of bread, ripe olives, and sometimes figs. Jesus had none of that. His disciples carried his food for him, so they were right to wonder who had fed him. Surely not the woman.
Jesus uses the typical pattern in John of answering with a theological response, confusing the disciples who only want to know if he has eaten food. Jesus will go on in the following verses expanding on his message until even his dense disciples get it.
William Barclay had an excellent example of the kind of experience Jesus was having, and the disciples would have later.
All his life Wilberforce, [William Wilberforce was a British politician, philanthropist, and a leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade.] who freed the slaves, was a little, insignificant, ailing creature. When he rose to address the House of Commons, the members at first used to smile at this queer little figure; but as the fire and the power came from the man, they used to crowd the benches whenever he rose to speak. As it was put: “The little minnow became a whale.” His message, his task, the flame of truth and the dynamic of power conquered his physical weakness.
Jesus gave his men a lesson on their future mission work. ‘You cannot put food or anything else ahead of doing God’s work.’
35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. 36 Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” ESV
Again, Jesus uses a proverb well known at the time. It refers to the traditional farming practice of plowing and planting the field and waiting until the crop was ripe, which took about four months. His second proverb, One sows and another reaps, Jesus holds as true for the work of missions.
The second proverb is based on Leviticus 26:16 which barely resembles the words of Jesus. Then I will do this to you: I will visit you with terror, with wasting disease, and with a fever that shall consume the eyes and cause sorrow of heart, and you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. I like Jesus’ version better.
I do not remember the details of a story about a missionary a couple of centuries ago who worked hard, but when he died, he had only one convert. Yet when a new missionary was finally sent, thousands of new Christians greeted him, all ministered to by the one convert.
Jesus is telling the disciples that Samaria is ready to hear the Word now, and to become followers of Jesus now.
39 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” ESV
The word, many, tells us a remarkable story. While Jesus was teaching his disciples at the well, the woman was busy spreading the Word in Sychar. Why did they even listen to the fallen woman? Why did they come to believe her?
The woman gave us a hint when she spoke of the Messiah. The Samaritans were waiting for the Anointed One from God. Remember, they did not accept any of the prophets, only the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch. Yet, they also were looking for the Promised One.
We know that Jesus’ mission is to preach to the Jews. It will be the task of the disciples—not just the Twelve—to go into Samaria and the rest of the world. Yet, Jesus agrees to delay his arrival in Galilee for two days. He has already said the harvest is ready now, so he teaches.
It is amazing that so many people of a village in the middle of the hated Samaria received Jesus with the enthusiasm only a few Galileans exhibited.
43 After the two days he departed from there to Galilee. 44 (For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country.) 45 So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him because they had seen all the things he had done in Jerusalem at the feast (for they themselves had gone to the feast). NET
We are back on the road. It was a good stop, but Jesus’ business is in Galilee. In verse 44, we read something that has puzzled Christians since the second century. Why does John make this statement here?
Origen, writing about 240 CE, may solve the matter. The country of the prophets, of course, was in Judea, and it is clear that they had had no honor among the Jews since they were stoned, sawn in two, tried and put to death by the sword…. While alive their fellow citizens dishonored them, but dead they respect them by building and adoring their tombs. ACCS
It is easy to forget with all the talk about Jesus of Nazareth that he is really of the tribe of Judah—he was born in Bethlehem, just south of Jerusalem. Judea was his country, not Galilee. I think this is also why John has Jesus officially (after the wine thing) open his ministry in his home country. When the Temple authorities execute Jesus in his home country, it reminds us of all the other prophets killed there. Jesus was in good company.
Jesus attended Passover for his opening event and impressed many people by what he said. Now, those from Galilee who were there for Passover, are eager to hear more.
Be Righteous and do Good