The Woman at the Well (John 4)

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Jesus chooses to sit down – yes, alongside – a person who is triply suspect. First, the person is a woman. As John notes of the disciples, ‘They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or “Why are you speaking with her?” (4:27). They were flabbergasted but did not have the courage to challenge or even question Jesus. Second, she was a Samaritan, despised in Jewish eyes, a source of contamination. Third, she turns out to be a woman with some experience, having had five husbands and a present lover.

Jesus is crossing boundaries, defying conventions, smashing taboos. His promise to the woman of living water (4:10-14) declares: you are worth it, you are acceptable to God; he wants to fill you with his Spirit. You may have a history – you may have a wider experience than most – but God wants you. No wonder the disciples were astonished – confounded. Their minds had to make a somersault!

The living water promised to the woman is not for the purposes of washing, cleaning or purification. There is no suggestion here she needs baptismal cleansing. Rather, Jesus is hailing her potential and her worthiness: “The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” When Jesus looks at this woman he does not look in judgement or condemnation. He celebrates her capacity to bear the living water. He sees the possibilities within. Indeed, one who was an outcaste and a reject becomes an evangelist and ambassador for the gospel. Jesus is unlocking the latent gifts in her – soon she will leave her still empty water jar and rush back into the city saying: “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!” (4:28)

John is telling us that all people, of whatever ethnicity, orientation or gender, are worthy to become recipients of the living water. And to emphasise this point he has the whole village declaring at the end of the story: “we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.” (4:42) The Greek word for ‘world’ is of course cosmos. Jesus is a cosmic phenomenon. He is opening to all people, of every background, an equal place in God’s Kingdom.

Beyond the Edge, Spiritual Transitions for Adventurous Souls, Andrew D. Mayes, SPCK Publications 2013, p. 58-59

 

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