Sunday, Feb 24, 2008: “John 4:1-42, “The Water of Life”

St. Mark’s Adult Education Meeting Summary
Selected Readings from the Gospel of JOHN
Lecture Series Led By Rev. Mike Kreutzer
Sunday, February 24, 2008


John 4:1-42, “The Water of Life”


(1) Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, “Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John” (2) —although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized— (3) he left Judea and started back to Galilee. (4) But he had to go through Samaria. (5) So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. (6) Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.


(7) A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”


(8) (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) (9) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) (10) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” (11) The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? (12) Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” (13) Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, (14) but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” (15) The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”


(16) Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” (17) The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; (18) for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” (19) The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. (20) Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” (21) Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.


(22) You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. (23) But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. (24) God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (25) 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.” (26) Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”


(27) Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” (28) Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, (29) “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” (30) They left the city and were on their way to him.

(31) Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” (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, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” (34) Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. (35) Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. (36) The reaper is already receiving wages and is 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.”


(39) Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” (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 truly the Savior of the world.” [The New Revised Standard Version]


1-2 an editor’s revision of 3:22 in which Jesus was baptizing


4 “had to go through Samaria”: a divine necessity, not a geographical one


6 “about noon”: Women went to wells in the early morning and in the evening, not during the day when men might be there. Perhaps this woman is pictured as going there at noon because the other women refused to associate with her because of her reputation.


8 Together with 31, the mention of “food” serves as an inclusion for the story.


9 Jews…Samaritans; origins of conflict from the division of the monarchy c. 922 B.C.E.; destruction of Samaria in 722 by Assyrians; Samaritans had tried to block the resettlement of Judah after the Babylonian Exile (ended in 539), had helped the Syrian monarchs in their war against the Judeans (168-164 B.C.E.); in 128 B.C.E., the Jewish high priest, John Hyrcanus, burned the Samaritan temple on Mt. Gerizim


10-11 “living water” (flowing water as opposed to stagnant water; from a stream or fountain rather than from a well or cistern); this section is another example of Johannine misunderstanding;

Greek “phrear”, denotes a cistern (used of the well in later verses of the passage)

Greek “pege”, denotes a fountain

“gift of God” and “living water” were terms used in Judaism to refer to the Torah; John may intend to portray Jesus himself as being the replacement for the Torah
since the second century, this “living water” has been seen as referring to both Jesus’ revelation and the gift of the Spirit; Johannine symbolism is often ambivalent


11 Greek “Kyrie”: can mean “Sir” or “Lord”; probably a progression from one to the other is intended; the woman’s titles for Jesus progress from “Jew” (9, probably meant pejoratively) to “Sir” (11, 15, 20) to “prophet” (19) to “Messiah” (29); the villagers come to recognize him as “the Savior of the world” (42)


12 “greater than…Jacob”: Johannine irony; the woman is unconsciously stating a truth

“who gave us this well”: no account of this in the Bible, but a Palestinian Targum says that, when Jacob had lifted the stone from the top of the well, it overflowed for 20 years (contrasted with Jesus’ living water that flows forever)


14 “gushing up”: not used elsewhere in the Bible to refer to water: it is used for quick movement by living beings; in LXX, it is used of the Spirit of God as it leaps upon Samson, Saul and David


18 “five husbands”: Jewish women were allowed a maximum of three husbands; if the Samaritans followed this same rule, this would have placed her outside any bounds of accepted morality


19 “prophet”: Jesus not only exhibited special knowledge, but indicated that he intended to restore the moral order in this case; the Samaritans did not accept the prophetic books, so this probably referred to the Prophet-like-Moses of Deuteronomy 18:15-18), the “Taheb” (lit. “the one who returns” or “restores”)


20 “this mountain” = Gerizim, probably the original mountain referred to in Deuteronomy 27:4, on which Moses commands Joshua to set up an altar


22 Johannine dualism: “in spirit and truth”, possible a hendiadys; only those who have been born “of water and Spirit” (John 3:5) can really worship the Father in truth


23 realized and future eschatology


24 “God is spirit”; not a definition, but a description of the way that God acts toward human beings; cf. “God is light’ (1 John 1:5) and “God is love” (1 John 4:8)


26 “I am he”: perhaps with a secondary meaning of the divine “I am”; Jesus did not accept the Jewish attribution of the title “Messiah” to him, possibly because it carried with it the connotation of an earthly king; he does accept the Samaritan woman’s use of that term


29 “He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”: (Greek meti); denotes that the situation is unlikely, but leaves open the possibility

31-34 misunderstanding about food, just as the Samaritan woman had had a misunderstanding about water

34 in the Synoptics, doing the work of God is a more general term; in John, it refers directly to Jesus’ mission

35 “four months”: from sowing to harvest


42 development of belief; contrast 2:23-25 (the Jews who had a tentative “faith” in Jesus because of the signs they had seen) with 4:42 (the Samaritans who had a much deeper belief in Jesus’ own words); Here we see, not just an example of an individual coming to belief, but also the role of apostles in calling others to belief.


This story probably never happened. There is no indication in the Synoptics that Jesus entered into a ministry among the Samaritans. In fact, in Matthew 10:5, he forbad his disciples to go there. It probably reflects the fact that the Johannine community, and the early Church in general, had a number of Samaritan members (see Acts 8:1-8). This story provides a basis and a justification for their inclusion.


The story presents us with a picture of someone coming to faith at Jesus’ initiative, and then going out to share that faith with others.. John Pilch notes that this woman is the best catechized person in John’s entire gospel. He likewise notes that a cultural subversion (a “cultural innovation”) is taking place here: Jesus calls, welcomes and receives as a disciple and an apostle someone with three strikes against her in regard to fulfilling these roles in that time and culture: (1) she is a woman, (2) she is a Samaritan, (3) she is clearly living outside the law. Here is a portrait of the universality of God’s calling, of God breaking down ancient barriers between people, and of God receiving all people as equals in the new age that has come.