"This Truly Is the Saviour of the World"
John 4: 5 — 42
This reading comes at the middle of the time of prayer and fasting in preparation for the great Easter celebrations. Although it is the Year of Matthew, we suspend our methodical walk through that Gospel account until after the celebration of Pentecost. Most of the readings until then will be from the Gospel according to St John.
The text for our meditation is about the encounter between our Lord and a Samaritan woman at the spot known from ancient times as Jacob's Well. It follows on from the account of John the Baptist's disciples who had come to him saying:
John the Baptist's reply is one of the most beautiful passages in all Scripture. It signals a change in the flow of events, which is noted by the critics of John who shift their focus to Jesus.
The following preamble to our text takes us to the opening scene.
(The Gospel Story by R. Cox.)
Some Notes On the Text
We draw significantly from:
Verses 5 and 6
Jesus came to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph, and in which Joseph's bones were later laid (Joshua 24: 32). Being wearied from his journey, Jesus "was sitting thus by the well", around midday.
The venerable evangelist and scholar St John Chrysostom (4 th century) adds something to note:
Cox also helps us with setting the scene:
Verses 7 and 8
A Samaritan woman comes to draw water, and Jesus asks her for a drink. He is alone as his disciples have gone into the village to buy some food. The woman is dismayed that a Jew would talk to a woman, even more surprising, to a Samaritan woman. But this is not a problem for Jesus: women held an honoured and prominent place in His discipleship throughout His ministry. That this was a Samaritan was a little bit more of an issue — but not insurpassable as Jesus was to demonstrate.
Verses10 and 16
One of the most helpful ways to understand what is really going on in this account is simply to follow the conversation just as it flows. Let's do this now.
Cox sums up the dialogue so far for us:
Verses 16 and 25
Our Lord has enjoyed this little banter between them, and even discerned that, being the bright and highly intelligent person she is, she has genuinely listened to him, and, though challenging His strange suggestions, she has grown more respectful with each sentence she uttered. To the best of her ability and limited knowledge, she was trusting Jesus to give to her what she thought He was offering. That is enough for Jesus to decide that He would indeed give her what He was really offering, for that was what she really needed.
However, He must first help her sort out a few things in her life. Jesus therefore, decides, now, to change tack, and so He sparks off a new dialogue.
Jesus gratefully accepts her implied yet cautious and provisional designation of Himself as Messiah. She has come a long way in a few minutes. She has engaged in profound conversation which many people then and ever since, would prefer to side step. Jesus, in a rare open and direct manner when she says, "I know that the Messiah is coming," now reveals his true identity:
Verses 27 and 28
Suddenly the disciples return and are surprised that Jesus is talking to a woman. They know him well enough, however, to keep such thoughts to themselves. Immediately, the woman, responding (at last) to our Lord's request for a drink, puts down water jar and hurries back to her village. She is so excited about her meeting that she cannot wait while Jesus drinks. After all, she can collect the water jar later. Then again, with her faith, now that she has come to the source of living water, she has no further need of any other.
Verses 29 and 30
The woman is very insistent to all who are back home. "Come and see a man who has told me everything I ever did. I am so amazed I can only believe deep down that he really is the Messiah we are waiting for!" That was enough to start everyone heading off to Jacob's well!
Verses 31 to 38
Meanwhile, the disciples who have justreturned urge Jesus:
Our Lord finds them even slower on the uptake than the Samaritan woman. He walks them through an important lesson.
Cox explains this for us.
This attitude of theirs reminds him of a proverb: After sowing it will be four months till harvesting; so one can sit down and rest till then. But how quickly time passes; the fields around them are almost ready for harvesting (white, not golden grain in Palestine).
At this moment the Samaritans are coming out to them, ready for conversion; they must be ready, then, at all times, to abandon all personal interests, even to go hungry, when souls are in need of help. No one can sit back and rest; others have already sown the seed before them (here He is thinking of the prophets of the Old Testament, and John the Baptist).
Our Lord could reveal himself as the Messiah here in Samaria because there was no danger of political revolt, as there would be in Galilee. The Samaritans were outside the general trend of Jewish opinion.
Verses 39 and 40
While Jesus was finishing that short lesson to His disciples, the villagers were approaching the vicinity of Jacob's Well. Many of the townsfolk had believed in Him on the strength of the woman's testimony. They went up to Jesus and begged him to stay with them. He accepted their invitation and stayed there for two more days, teaching those who wanted to listen. Many more came to believe in Him and His message.
Verse 41 and 42
They approached the woman and declared that they no longer believe in Jesus just because of her report, but also because they had heard Him themselves. Indeed, they recognised in Him something even more than the Messiah to which she had witnessed. The event closes with the most unexpected acclamation:
More literally, the Samaritans said, "This is the Saviour of the world, the Messiah (Christ)". A more complete declaration of our Lord's office as Saviour of the world" is nowhere to be found in the Gospels. We are privileged, therefore, to know the circumstances in which this august and totally appropriate title is ascribed to Jesus.
This amazing account began with Jesus being recognised as a weary traveller; then a Jew; then a Prophet; then the Messiah; and finally, in an affirmation of widely held conviction, the Saviour of the world! All this from a heart that was open and willing to listen and enter into genuine dialogue as distinct from one of minimul politenesses, or cold formality. As a result, the Lord was able to win many followers.
Jesus worked no wonders or miracles in this great account. Through one who was prepared to let the Lord see into the depths of her soul and put right any disorder there, He was able to convert a whole mass of people. There is surely a lesson here for the Church today. Those who want to worship in Spirit and in Truth are called to follow in this same tradition.
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