Lectionary Reflection: John 4: 5-42: Beneath the Surface

Here is the surface truth: Jesus reached out to a rejected woman across the walls of religious, political and gender prejudice. He had compassion on a woman who was completely rejected, even by her own people. The only love the woman knew was false.  The only touch she received was physical and that did not satisfy.  The only hope she had was, well, perhaps none.

She was a woman.  Not a good prospect in that culture, and a single woman at that.  Some think she may have been the village prostitute.  She went to the well at noon, not because she was thirsty, but because it was the only time she could go.  The women of the village, any village back then typically went to the well early in the morning and in the cool of the evening.  But she was not welcomed to go with the other women.  She had to go in the heat of the day.

Add to that, she was a Samaritan – a half Assyrian, half-Jew, half-breed despised by the Jews.  The Jews treated Samaritans as unclean, something like they treated lepers.  It was a sin to even talk to such a person, and this was a woman besides!

Add to that her five divorces and now the fact that she was shacking up with a guy and it would have been so easy for Jesus to condemn her, to reprimand her, to go parental on her and give her the pious lecture, but not Jesus.  Instead, he asks for a drink and offers her living water in return.


It is hard to talk about this passage without pointing a finger at us all, especially in the church.  I mean, how many churches would support an outreach to prostitutes of the wrong ethnic persuasion?  It is hard to talk about this passage without talking about prejudice, racial, gender or of whatever kind.  But then, that is not exactly what this passage tells us.  Yes, Jesus cuts through all that, but I want to know, why?

The deeper truth:  No matter who we are or what we have done, God is not in the business to condemn us.  He wants us to receive the living water: the Holy Spirit.  He wants us to worship the father in the Spirit and truth, and not be concerned about a particular time or place.  He wants us to know that he is the one, that he has done all that we need, and that God, the Holy Spirit can and will make it real for us.

Of course, neither the woman at the well, nor the Samaritans who came to see and hear with their own eyes and ears, nor even the disciples could really understand this.  Jesus had not yet been crucified.  He had not yet appeared in the upper room after the resurrection to breathe on the disciples and say, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  That was yet to come.

But for us, we can understand with joy.  And we are without excuse.  We sometimes say this after we confess ourselves on a Sunday.  How many times have you heard this?  Who is in a position to condemn?  Only Christ.  And Christ died for us, Christ rose for us, Christ reigns in power for us, Christ prays for us.

Jesus could have so easily condemned the woman.  She was a woman with open sores in her life as real as the sores that covered old Job.  The thing is, he didn’t condemn her.  Despite everything, he clearly loved the woman, offered her healing and best of all, hope.

That is the truth behind the whole conversation between Jesus and the woman at the well.  It is the same that Jesus told Nicodemus.  That Jesus Christ came into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the whole world might be saved through him.  Friends, believe the good news.  In Jesus Christ we are forgiven – no matter what!


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