2.6 John -- The Samaritan Woman
Jn 4:1-42. What an amazing juxtaposition of chapters 3 and 4! What Jesus talked about theoretically with Nicodemus is then demonstrated in real-life with the Samaritan woman. This episode, which takes up almost a whole chapter in John, is not even mentioned by any of the other Gospel writers.
a. This entire encounter was a setup, what some people today call "a divine appointment." First of all, Jesus ditched his disciples (Jn 4:8). By hanging around him, they would have prevented Jesus from having a one-on-one conversation with this foreign woman. In fact, they probably would have sent her away. Second, he initiated the conversation:
"Will you give me a drink?" (Jn 4:7).
This simple request violated the social conventions. The woman herself was amazed: "How can you ask me for a drink?" John feels he has to explain that Jews don't associate with Samaritans -- an indication he was writing for a Gentile audience.
b. Jesus then invited her to ask him to give her living water. And we ourselves then ask: "is this the same man who turned aside the Syro-Phoenician widow, saying he was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel"? (Mat 15:21-28) Jesus was inviting not a righteous Gentile (man), but a despised mixed-race unclean woman (who was even then living in sin). He could not have found a more unworthy person than she. After having spoken with the highest of the high (Nicodemus), Jesus went to the lowest of the low -- and neither one of them understood what he was talking about. This lady at least wanted the living water, because it would save her time and trouble coming to the well every day, so she thought. When Jesus told her that she had had five husbands, and the man she was living with was not her husband, she acknowledged he was a prophet and immediately brought up the "point of contention" between Jews and Samaritans -- the proper location to worship God.
What Jesus then said follows the pattern we have seen previously in John: he affirmed the Old Covenant, but then went off in a new direction:
"You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet..." (Jn 4:22-23).
This "yet" wipes away the rivalry between the two races:
"a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem....Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth" (Jn 4:21-24).
The future has now arrived, and racial/religious division is transcended in the dispensation of the Spirit. This dovetails precisely with Jesus' mysterious statements to Nicodemus about being birthed by the Spirit:
"The wind blows where it pleases....So it is with everyone born of the Spirit" (Jn 3:8).
In this conversation, Jesus:
1. affirms the primacy of the Jews in God's historical plan.
2. closes the book on that covenant: God will no longer be confined to one piece of holy ground.
3. announces the opening of the "new world order": "a time is coming and has now come."
4. inaugurates a new form of worship in place of the Old Testament sacramental/legal system.
This worship occurs in the realm of the Spirit by people who have been born from above by that Spirit.
And the final point is that Jesus made these statements to a Samaritan woman. He was not speaking hypothetically to her, but opening the way for her (and the Gentiles) into this community of the Spirit.
There is no trace of hostility here to Judaism, no overturning of tables. Rather, it is in the same spirit as Paul's famous passage:
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new (2 Cor 5:17 KJV).