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Gospel of John--High Christology

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4:1 - 42--The Samaritan Woman Contrasted with Nicodemus


Last week we looked at this passage in its cultural and theological context; what it meant, culturally and theologically, for Jesus to have this conversation with this particular Samaritan woman. This week, we'll take the conversation a step further and compare it to a previous conversation Jesus has had: his conversation with Nicodemus (John 3:1 - 21).


Nicodemus was a male, Jewish Pharisee who held no small degree of power as a member of the ruling council. The woman was a Samaritan, not a Jew; as such she would have been seen as a member of a "false religion," as opposed to the Jewish "true religion." As far as we can tell, she held no position of power or even influence within her cultural setting--indeed, her association with so many men probably would have made her a social outcast of sorts. As a woman, it is likely she was uneducated; whereas a Pharisee would have been considered wise. It is also particularly noteworthy that Nicodemus is named; the woman is not.


Nicodemus comes by night, in contrast to the woman, who comes by day. At Nicodemus' initial conversation with Jesus, he seems quite hesitant to believe. In a later appearance with other Pharisees (chapter 7), he is quite coy; it is not until after Jesus' death that he finally comes out into the open as a follower. The Samaritan woman, however, seems to believe immediately, even going back to her town and telling people about Jesus. Nicodemus calls Jesus "teacher" (or "Rabbi"), but the woman calls Him "prophet." Nicodemus' opening salvo makes reference to miraculous signs, but the woman accepts Jesus as His word (though, admittedly, Jesus' insight--which could be termed miraculous--goes far in convincing her).


In his conversation with Jesus, Nicodemus eventually fades from view--we don't know what happened to him! The woman, however, holds her own in her conversation. In His conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus is cryptic, speaking in a way that Nicodemus doesn't ever seem to quite understand what He is saying. With the woman, though, Jesus is uncharacteristically clear. With Nicodemus Jesus is brusque, at one point asking (accusing?), "You are Israel's teacher, and do you not understand these things?" With the woman, though, Jesus is tender--even when He catches her in a half-truth about her current marital state.


Let's recap the contrast between Nicodemus and the Samaritan Woman:


True Religion
Comes by Night
Hesitant to Believe
Calls Jesus "teacher"
Depends on Signs
Fades from view in Conversation
Jesus is Cryptic
Jesus is Brusque

Samaritan Woman

False Religion
Comes at Day
Believes Immediately
Calls Jesus "prophet"
Sees for Herself
Holds her own in Conversation
Jesus is Clear
Jesus is Tender

As an early, devoted follower of Jesus, it is not surprising that John would cast a Pharisee in a less-than-positive light. However, having been raised as a Jew, it is surprising that John would cast a Samaritan woman in as positive a light as he has. Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus is surprisingly negative, whereas His conversation with the Samaritan Woman is surprisingly positive. It would have especially been surprising to John's original audience. It no doubt challenged them, and stretched them, in their faith.


Next week we continue the idea of a "New Universalism." See you then!


In Christ,


--Pastor Dan


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Last modified date:
January 1, 2018