Wednesday, June 4, 2014

John 4

First things first, nothing to do with John or the Bible in general, but did you all know that there's a show called 'Paranormal Home Inspection'? Where people have ghost hunters come and check out their house because they think it's haunted. They also bring along an actual home inspector who manages to explain all the weird goings on with perfectly rational explanations.

But do the people go, 'Oh, yeah, silly me!'

No. No, they do not.

They believe the people who tell them their house was built on a Native American burial ground or that they might be being abducted by aliens.

'Why do these toys keep winding up in the middle of the floor?!?!'

'You've got two kids and a cat.'


*home inspector hangs his head in disgust and wanders off to find rational people*
Seriously, he laughs, like he can't believe he's getting paid for this insanity.

I despair of humanity.



Moving on.

John really does contain a lot of the stories that people know even if they haven't been to church in years.

In chapter four we start out with the story of Jesus and the woman at the well.

So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour.
A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.
Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.

From what I remember, it was even more than 'Jews have no dealings with Samaritans' but that were, prior to the Babylonian exile, Jewish tribes themselves. That they were the remnants that were left behind and when the others returned their culture and religion had drifted so far apart that they became two people. 

The Samaritans were the people of the Kingdom of Israel and the Jews were the people of the Kingdom of Judah.

And no one carries on a disagreement like family. 

10 Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”
11 The woman said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? 12 Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?”
13 Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”

I think it's important to note here that while Jesus is clearly not speaking literally of a water that quenches all thirst for forever, the imagery would have been even more arresting to the woman. 

Personally, I live in Florida and we are surrounded with water and greenness all the time. Sometimes we wish there was a little less water, especially when the streets are flooded. But the Bible was written in an arid land. Some place where you couldn't count on just stopping somewhere and finding drinkable water. Wells were the life of the people, the life of a city. 

Without them life was impossible. 

And water was still a chore to get. We're not talking about a well like this:

A well in ancient times looked more like this:

And they had caps/lids on them to help keep the water clean and cool. Getting water (something you would need to do daily) was not an easy task.

Water was something that you had to have but you had to work for it first.

As an aside, what is believed to be the well in this story is inside of an Orthodox monastery these days.

I also think it interesting to note that this conversation happened at Jacob's well, when Jacob is the wellspring for both the Samaritan people and the Jews. 

My rambling is all sort of circling around this. If someone promised you a pill or a drink that would...mean you never had to do something necessary but difficult again (whatever that would be in your life), you'd jump at the chance, right?

I'm not sure, at this point, that the Samaritan woman got where Jesus was going with this.

It is, I believe, generally understood and accepted that the 'living water' Jesus is speaking of here is the Holy Spirit and with it the grace of God.

15 The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.”
17 The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.”
Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.”
19 The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.”

This is one spot where Jesus displays knowledge that he, logically, should not possess. To know (assuming that this is a historical event and not an allegorical story) that this specific woman has been married and remarried and is she married to the man only it's an invalid marriage or is she living with a man outside of marriage? I'm not really sure. Still, it's not something he should know, not being from around there.

And it impresses her. Being the cynical type I'm not at all sure that that would have been enough for me to start calling someone a prophet, but I wasn't there so. 

Why am I being easier on the Samaritan woman than on poor Nathanael? Well. Jesus knowing the exact number of times this specific woman he just met has been married (or not as the case may be) is different from saying 'I knew you were under a fig tree', especially since Jesus had been talking with someone who knew Nathanael prior to that encounter. There is a simple, logical way for Jesus to have known about Nathanael sitting under a tree. I don't see one for his knowledge of this womans marital history.

The question at the end is actually at the heart of the divide between Samaritans and Jews. The Samaritans held that the mountain was the sacred spot to worship God, the Jews said it was Jerusalem. If Jesus was the prophet that the woman was thinking him to be, he would have an answer to that.

But he doesn't answer it, though one assumes he knew the answer, either as a prophet or as God.

21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.

Knowing that the Samaritans and the Jews were, historically, the same people, I wonder at this. How do the Samaritans not know what they worship when they worship the same God in different ways.

I think that verse 21 is usually seen as a prophecy about the destruction of the Temple after Jesus' time and the eventual removal of the Jewish population from the city under...Hadrian, I believe.
  23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

I wonder at the emphasis on God being spirit in verse 24, given that Christianity is an incarnational faith and John is the most explicit about the Trinity in its writings. 

25 The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will tell us all things.”
26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”

A lot of people look at this and jump because Jesus is claiming here to be the Messiah. But people who've been raised in Christianity are likely to see Christian interpretations in things because the assumption is so deeply rooted. 

We forget that the Messiah, for the Jews and the Samaritans, was not an incarnation of God the way we think of it today. The Messiah they were waiting for as a king, a leader. Someone who would restore their kingdom. 

Jesus claiming Messiah-ship here is important, but not necessarily in the way we've been taught that it is.

Okay, this post is getting long....

We have the Samaritan woman running back to the city (abandoning her water jars) to tell everyone about the guy she just met. The disciples, who were off getting food, come back, don't question why Jesus was talking to whoever he wanted to talk to (wise men) and try to feed him like the friends they are.

Then we have the harvest speech, with Jesus alluding again, possibly, to his crucifixion by:

35 Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! 36 And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. 37 For in this the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors.”

Or possibly their own deaths as well? Since most of the Apostles wind up being martyred.  

And the Samaritans are so impressed by what the woman from the well says that they ask Jesus to hang for a while and he does and many of them believed after hearing him speak. 

Then he turns and continues on his way to the Galilee and we get this:

46 So Jesus came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman whose son was sick at Capernaum. 47 When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and implored Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. 48 Then Jesus said to him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe.”
49 The nobleman said to Him, “Sir, come down before my child dies!”
50 Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your son lives.” So the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went his way. 51 And as he was now going down, his servants met him and told him, saying, “Your son lives!”
52 Then he inquired of them the hour when he got better. And they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” 53 So the father knew that it was at the same hour in which Jesus said to him, “Your son lives.” And he himself believed, and his whole household.
54 This again is the second sign Jesus did when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.

I think that the emphasis here is on faith without signs. Though obviously the healing of the mans son would be a miracle and a sign, he *believed* that his son was healed based on Jesus saying it rather than on any proof. Jesus didn't come with him and lay hands on his son. He didn't do anything physical, like when he heals the blind man (with the mud and the spit). He said, 'Your son lives' and that was that.

Which is similar (of course) to the creation stories. God says 'be' and everything is. He doesn't have to *do* anything.  

So I can see this as a demonstration of divine power, but on the other hand, assuming that Jesus was a prophet rather than God incarnate, couldn't God have given him knowledge that God had healed the son? Jesus didn't say '*I* have healed your son'.

And now, a picture of one of my cats completely not respecting my attempts to use the Bible as reference material.

Why? Because he's a jerk. A giant, small child devouring jerk of a cat who used to fit in the palm of my hand and can now crush my chest if he tries to sleep on me.

The Bible *was* open to where I was reading, but he flicked his tail so hard he flipped the pages back a couple of chapters.


  1. // It is, I believe, generally understood and accepted that the 'living water' Jesus is speaking of here is the Holy Spirit and with it the grace of God. //

    Yep, and more. I'm gonna drift into a personal thought. I was listening to an MP3 Bible on the way to work today (when it's 37min round trip, you've got plenty of time) and had it on the book of John. (cause, you know, this blog.)

    Anyway, I came to this passage, and was suddenly struck by this part:

    // Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

    The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty //

    You're right, Amber, the woman really didn't know what she was talking about. But then, did I? I knew Jesus was speaking spiritually, but what WAS this spring of water rising to eternal life? How did it actually work? What did it feel like? I probably just had nebulous ideas of "joy", "contentment", "heaven", etc.

    Again, you're right to identify the "water" as the Holy Spirit, which we'll see again in John 7. And it occurred to me that there are things in life that I am not thirsty for, because when God Himself moved in with me, my thirst was satisfied.

    * My thirst for meaning in life, to know why I was here and what life was for.

    * My thirst for explanations, for bad things that happen for reasons I cannot possibly know in this life.

    * My thirst for the deepest possible relationship. Not that I don't deeply love my wife, my family and friends. But a knowledge that I have a friendship with God that will survive even if I lose every other loving relationship I have in this world.

    * My thirst to have someone to admire when I watch my daughter's ugly caterpillars dissolve, digest themselves, and reform into butterflies and ask "Who in the world could design something that can do THAT?!"

    * My thirst to makes sure every moment of my life is lived to the absolute fullest, because YOLO.

    It is an awesome, awesome thing to be at rest from trying to satisfy those thists that are otherwise unquenchable.

    After that, I got to work and the rest of the day of computer programming was much more mundane. So, end of story!

  2. I think Jesus' mention of worship "in spirit and truth" points to more than just God as spirit; I think it points to the Spirit of truth, expanding on Jesus' special gift of living water (the Spirit). This particular worship is already happening because Jesus has the Spirit of truth and is speaking that truth to the woman. Thus there is an incarnational aspect to this: the Spirit speaks the truth through the mouth of Jesus (and later his followers). The phrase "the Spirit of truth" is found three times in Jn. 14-16, where Jesus promises to send the disciples the Paraclete, the Spirit of truth, after he returns to the Father. That Spirit will help them remember and witness to the truth they have heard from Jesus. According to Jesus in Jn. 4, such witness will be (an important part of) worship.

  3. Amber, I was reading a book earlier this year about the land of the Bible. The author discusses the wilderness, the land, water, and such things mentioned in the Bible. He does it in a cultural way. I guess like you mentioned in Florida you are surrounded by water vs. the arid land where Jesus lived.

    The author points out that living water was greatly distinguished in Judaism from common water so much so that an oral law "devoted an entire chapter to the classification of types of water for special uses."

    Living water was especially important in Jewish purification rituals. It was "water that has come to us directly from the hand of God (e.g., rain, a spring, a river." It hasn't been "'ported' or 'lifted' by human hand - as stored water has." He says about the Samaritan woman that Jesus offered her to be cleansed and made new. This is why they delve into her past and the mention of the husbands. He knew she was outcast from her community (gathering water at noon wasn't typical), and offered restoration, to make her clean.

    I enjoyed your thoughts!

    1. oooh...what's the book title? You know me and books. :)

      Definitely I was highlighting the cultural aspect of the water here. After all, if this was taking place in a more tropical climate like Florida the promise of water (living or otherwise) wouldn't be as much of a punch to the gut. We've got water to spare. Sure, you might die trying to get to it (snakes and gators and crocs, oh my!) but there's plenty of water.

    2. It's this one.


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