Red Letter Year: 10/8

John 4.1-14

1 Jesus knew the Pharisees had heard that he was baptizing and making more disciples than John 2 (though Jesus himself didn’t baptize them — his disciples did). 3 So he left Judea and returned to Galilee.

4 He had to go through Samaria on the way. 5 Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. 7 Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” 8 He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food.

9 The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?”

10 Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”

11 “But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would you get this living water? 12 And besides, do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?”

13 Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. 14 But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”


I have shared already about how John seems more aware than the previous Gospel writers that the nature of Jesus Christ was an important issue. At the start of chapter 1 we saw John begin with a very clear statement that Jesus is the Son of God, equal with the Father in being eternally present and in creating the world. Those who would deny that Jesus is God (like the Ebionites I have been writing about) have to contend with what John wrote here. This emphasis can make it seem that John has a view of Jesus that is more God and less human, or else that we as readers are prone to read back into John the later church decision that Jesus is to be regarded as fully God and fully human (this was decided at the Council of Nicea in 325AD). But I want to suggest that a proto-Nicene understanding of Jesus is present in John, that what Nicea came to affirm was congruent with what John had in mind (and viably consistent with what the other Gospels have too). This may sound like so much theological dancing around (and to some extent it is, cha cha cha!), but I do think there is an important point here for us (I try not to bore you with pointless theology – and yes, some of it is).
What we have in the beginning of this story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman is the juxtaposition of Jesus’ humanity and divinity – and what comes of that. This is a theme John is going to develop, we will see this as we go, and the groundwork for it is right here. Jesus is weary, thirsty, and alone. John knows we’ve read about the cross already, so he is expecting us to catch this foreshadowing. His thirst (can there be a better symbol for what it means to be human?) is what leads to his conversation with the woman, where he offers her an unlimited supply of water. This is a promise only a god could make. The woman was taken aback by such a strange response coming from a thirsty man who was breaking an ethnic and gender barrier in even speaking to her. What could he even mean?
We will get into her response tomorrow, but for today I want us to sit with this progression: out of a full expression of Jesus’ humanity comes a revelation of his divinity and a promise of – of what? What does the water represent? John will tell us later (7.39) that the water is a symbol for the Holy Spirit. The promise and giving of the Holy Spirit is a major theme in John and this is how the Spirit comes: through an expression of Jesus’ humanity and a revelation of his divinity. The culminating symbol for this will be on the cross, when Jesus’ side is pierced and blood and water flow (19.35). John makes clear that the Holy Spirit is not given until the death of Jesus. More than that, the Spirit is given BY the death of Jesus.
As Karl Barth explained it, “The community and all its members are born out of that wound in his side, and they live on that which flows from there: the blood and the water which is the Spirit. It is a community of the cross or it is not the Christian community at all.” (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV/4, 126) The divine/human nature of Jesus is not just some weird theological concept. It is the wellspring from which the Holy Spirit flows and creates the community – the body of Christ. We are a community formed by and inescapably marked by the cross. Keep this in mind as we go (I know I keep saying that. I suppose it’s my job to do the reminding.) because we will see John develop this theme. And in the mean time, know that this is still how and why the Spirit comes: to reveal Jesus as God and human, to heal us as humans, to help us crucify our flesh as humans, and to resurrect us to new life in Christ.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.