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Gospel of John--High Christology

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4:1 - 42--The Samaritan Woman


This passage begins by telling us that Jesus traveled from Judea to Galilee, through Samaria. That Jesus chose to travel through Samaria is significant. Galilee, Samaria, and Judea were all stacked on top of each other, with Judea to the south, Galilee to the north, and Samaria right smack in the middle. But in Jesus' day, the relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans was so strained that oftentimes Jews would actually bypass Samaria, traveling considerably out of their way to the east to avoid the land. It is therefore significant that Jesus chose not to exercise this common prejudice, instead traveling into Samaria. It is even more significant that Jesus chose to strike up a conversation with the Samaritan woman. D.A. Carson notes that within a generation of this conversation, conservative Jewish scholars would label Samaritan women ritually unclean on a permanent basis. This meant both that Samaritan women could do nothing to change their status, and that all Jews coming in contact with Samaritan women would become unclean by association. This was not yet in effect at the time of Jesus' discussion with this woman, but it does reflect the high social prejudice against Samaritans (and specifically Samaritan women)--and the significance of Jesus having a conversation with her (one that He initiates, no less). What we are seeing is a universalism--no longer will there be dividing barriers between Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles; all will be adopted by God into His family. We will see this more clearly next week.


In the midst of this conversation, at one point (v. 16) Jesus coyly encourages the woman to go get her husband. She states simply that she has no husband, to which Jesus says, "You have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband." It is not necessarily a lie Jesus has caught her in, especially considering that He commends her for her dubious honesty. She had been married on five different occasions; that these men are no longer considered her husband means that they had either died, or divorced her. Furthermore, she was not married to the man she was currently with. Legally, her answer was true--she had no husband. Socially this would have made her suspect, to say the least. Indeed, that she shows up to the well alone suggests she is something of a social outcast; women often traveled to the wells in groups. Jesus demonstrates a supernatural knowledge of her life, and this demonstration goes far in convincing, and converting, both her and others from her town.


Jesus tends to do this exceptionally well: He cuts through the rhetoric of self-justification with which we surround ourselves, and points to the truth of the matter. We will jump through incredible mental hoops in order to convince ourselves that we are not guilty of some particular sin, and some times, from a strictly legal standpoint, we might indeed be correct. But Jesus is not interested in legal gymnastics. He points to the heart and the spirit of the matter. As the one who pays the ultimate price for our sins, He knows our sins all too well. We see this throughout Matthew 5, in Jesus' "You have heard it said/but I tell you" statements, in which Jesus quotes legal minutiae only to exhort His hearers to a higher standard. Paul speaks to this matter as well:


1 Corinthians 4:4--My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.


2 Timothy 4:3--For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.


As we will see in chapter 8, oftentimes Jesus does not condemn the sin of those He meets. He calls attention to it, and commands that they leave it (see especially the latter part of 8:11), but He does not destroy the person with verbal rebuke. This speaks powerfully to the effects of an encounter with Jesus: sin is illuminated, but we are not beat up; rather, we are loved, we are changed, and we are inspired to walk away from sin. 


See you next week!


In Christ,


--Pastor Dan


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