Lent

ACTA COMMENTARY ON OUR SUNDAY LECTIONARY

Third Sunday of Lent Year B

This Sunday may be a day that the LORD has made but, as far as the Lectionary is concerned, it is exceedingly messy. There are two reasons (at least) for this. The Gospel of Mark is suddenly abandoned and we move to the Gospel of John which replaces Mark until be reach Palm Sunday. This is to present readings that are more appropriate to themes and pastoral activities (RCIA, baptism, themes relevant to Easter expectations).   Download: >>> 3rd Sunday of Lent Year B

 

During the year, from the 17th Sunday to the 21st Sunday Mark is abandoned in favour of Gospel readings from John, chapter 6. The result is that we miss much of Mark’s little pamphlet. The General Introduction to the Lectionary §97 does not provide a satisfactory explanation.

However, it hastens to suggest that we may use the Lenten Gospel readings provided for Year A for the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Sundays of Lent in Yr B and Yr C. In the Year of Matthew, the Gospel readings for the Third Sunday of Lent abandon Matthew and head off to John. And John takes over until we come to Palm Sunday. There is an explanation:

On the (third, fourth, and fifth) Sundays (of Lent), the Gospels about the Samaritan woman, the man born blind, and the raising of Lazarus have been restored to Year A. Because these gospels are of major importance in regard to Christian initiation, they may also be read in Year B and year C, especially in places where there are catechumens.

I shall follow the advice of §97 since these great stories are of profound interest. So the readings for the Third Sunday are,

First Reading: A reading from the Book of Exodus 20:1-17.
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 18:8-11. R⁄. John 6:68.
Second Reading: First Letter of St Paul to Corinthians 1:22-25.
Gospel: A Reading from the Gospel according to John 4:5-42.

There is a special effort in the Lent lectionary to link all the readings into a coherent whole. This moderately successful.

 

A Reading from the Book of Exodus 20:1-17

We need to be careful here as we reflect “all these words spoken by God”. Especially we must not turn God’s holy words into commandments. Our first reading today is not about THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. The Hebrew words are aseret ha-devarim which mean The Ten Words, the Deca-logue. Not The Ten Commandments. You need to be sure of this. Moses was sure of this, for we are told that he wrote these words on famous the tablets of stone:

And he [Moses] was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he ate no bread and drank no water; and he wrote down on the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten words. Exodus 34:28

English translations nearly always present the Ten Words (Decalogue) as The Ten Commandments. But words of love, words of covenant, of covenanted love, are not commands. If love is to be given and love returned, then a list of commandments sounds more like “do this or else” than “these words of love will bind us together”.

And remember that God prefaces his words to Moses with an identity card:

I AM the LORD (YHWH) your God.

The “I AM who I AM” of Exodus 3:14 is the LORD

 

For the LORD,
your God
is
God of gods
and LORD of lords.
the great, the mighty, the awesome God …

Deuteronomy 10:17

To which is added a job description:

…who brought you out of the land of Egypt,
the land of slavery.

Exodus 20:1

 

This is the key to The Ten Words. They are loving words, a divine prescription to keep us out of slavery, to keep us free from bondage, to keep us firmly rooted in that steadfast love that endures forever. Call them Commandments if your tradition insists. But remember that they are a prescription from One who seeks our wellbeing. God, as we know from his Son’s parables is more concerned with the lost than with those who are never lost (are there any such people?). The Ten Words are spoken to us by God in order to keep us out of the house of slavery, whatever our personal or communal slaveries might be.

Just a few thoughts:

(i) All the “commandments” here are given to men. All the “You shall” and “You shall not …” are in masculine form. What does this tell you?

(ii) We are not told to love our parents here or elsewhere in the Bible. We are told to “honour your father and your mother” and this is the one word of God that has a warning attached. Why?

(iii) Why is ‘wife” among that which is “your neighbour’s” and must not be coveted?

 

Please do not read the shorter form of this reading in the Lectionary. The Church has no right to edit God’s holy words. There is a warning against this practice in Revelation 22:18-19. However, with very long readings we should employ a few readers to alternate the voices or to represent various speakers. We do this on Good Friday. There is no law saying we can’t do this every Sunday.


Responsorial Psalm Psalm 18:8-11. R./John 6:68

The Hebrew of Psalm 19:8 (= Ps 18) the opening verse of the Lectionary quotation is “The Torah of the LORD is perfect”. Early Christians used a translation of the Hebrew text into Greek made c.250 B.C. by the Jewish community in the new city of Alexandria in Egypt. That Greek translation reads,

ὁ νόμος τοῦ κυρίου ἄμωμος, ἐπιστρέφων ψυχάς

St Jerome, in the fourth/fifth century A.D., produced a Latin translation of the Bible that became known as the Vulgate and this was the Bible of the Western Church. It is still the official Bible of Roman Catholics. His translations reads,

Lex Domini immaculata, convertens animas.

The usual translation found in English editions issued by Jewish scholars is,

The teaching of the LORD is perfect.

Torah does not mean “law” in our sense. It means the totally of God’s wisdom revealed to humanity in what St Francis of Assisi insisted on calling “God’s holy words”. Psalm 18 is a Wisdom Psalm. It is full of God’s teaching to the human heart given to us in the vocabulary found in the Book of Wisdom, the Book of Proverbs, and other writings in the Old Testament gathered together as The Wisdom Writings. Such phrases simple, wise, fear of the LORD, instruction (not “precepts). There is a vocabulary of wisdom in our Bibles which need, in our days, to be explored - and to be lived. This vocabulary is not a list of legal requirements but a way of living righteous, living the life of the LORD.

A reading from the first letter of St Paul to the Corinthians
1-22-25

If St Paul had a tee-shirt on the front and back he would have inscribed in indelible ink these words:

WE PREACH CHRIST CRUCIFIED

And it would be in red because Paul put the Cross of Christ at the very heart of his newfound Christian faith. It is a slogan against the world. For who would believe that a crucified criminal, crucified by the all-powerful authority of the Roman Empire, would be the Saviour of the world? Devote Jews could not get their heads around it - the very idea was stumbling block to faith in God! Pure madness!, said the street-wise Greeks brought up on the nostrums of Plato and the rationality of Plato good guys both but not privy even to the foolishness of God, never mind the wisdom. But in the reality of Paul’s faith the Cross is the wisdom of God. When you gather all the wisdom words in the Jewish scriptures together, there is one word missing: cross. For God has turned this madness into love, this weakness into the strength, this dis-grace into grace, this despair into hope beyond all words.

A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 4:5-42

Let me get this straight from the beginning lest we go sinfully awry in reading this magnificent story.

This woman is not a sinner.
This woman is not a terrible person.
This woman was married five/six times.
This woman is not demeaned by Jesus.

 

The Samaritans were victims of imperial oppression and were uprooted from their own lands in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) and planted in the middle of ancient Israel by the Assyrians (see 2 Kings 17 for biblical details of the catastrophe in 722 B.C.)

There are details in every paragraph of this story that must be underlined. I give the text of each paragraph (these are my divisions, of course; there are no such divisions in the Greek manuscripts).

 

SETTING : John 4:1-6

4 1Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, "Jesus is making and baptising more disciples than John " - 2although it was not Jesus himself who baptised but his disciples - 3he left Judaea and went again into Galilee. 4But it was necessary for him to go through Samaria. 5So he comes to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near a bit of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6Jacob's well was there. Jesus, exhausted from his journey, was sitting down by the well. It was about the sixth hour (see John 19:14).

 

Read chapter 3, especially 3:31-36, for chapter foreshadows the meeting of Jesus and the woman of Samaria.

It is important to note “it was necessary for him to go through Samaria” because it wasn’t. He could have crossed into Peraea and gone by the road east of the Jordan. He didn’t do so because it was necessary for him to go through Samaria. This is a divine necessity. God determined that he was to meet this woman. This is not a chance encounter. This is a divine set-up. Jesus obeys his Father and goes where the Father directs him (see 8:42 and many suchlike texts in John). The meeting at Jacob’s well and meetings at other wells in the Bible are usually arranged by God - see Genesis 24:1-66 and, for a well and a great love story tinged with sadness, read Genesis 29.

Those who remember the Dies Irae, might recall the tenth stanza of this dirge:
It was me you were seeking
when, exhausted,
You sat by the well,
Me that you redeemed
When you suffered on the cross.
Do not allow such toil to be in vain.

The Dies Irae links the saving death of Jesus with the woman Jesus met at the well. This link is made in John’s Gospel when the moment that Jesus is “delivered … over to them to be crucified” is underlined:

Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. John 19:14

I have heard so many homilies that declared that the woman came to the well, not in the cool of the early morning or the cool of the evening, but in the heat of the noonday sun because women would not associate with this notorious sinner. Apart from the fact that women, living in a patriarchal society that routinely supressed women, cared for their wounded sisters, the writer(s) of John’s Gospel, in their usual enigmatic way, wished readers and hearers to know that this woman meets the Messiah and Saviour of the world at the same time as of day as God’s Son will fulfil his destiny as he reigns from the Cross. The dream of the rood is fulfilled in both stories about the sixth hour.

 

ACT 1, SCENE I : A Woman of Samaria

There comes a woman of Samaria, to draw water. Jesus says to her, "Give me a drink". (Now his disciples had gone off into the city to buy bread.) And the woman of Samaria says to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, asks me, a woman of Samaria, for a drink?" For Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.

It is of supreme importance to note that Jesus empowers a woman to be the first apostle in John’s Gospel (though no one in this Gospel is called an apostle and the Twelve are never mentioned). We will miss the full impact of this remarkable encounter if we do not grasp the fact that this man meets this woman at Jacob’s well and she proclaims the word in the city.

Secondly, and of no less importance, this woman is a Samaritan. Eight times in the telling of this tale Samaria or Samaritans are mentioned. This place, this woman, are despised as unclean. Young Jewsih men tempted to fall for dark-haired beautiful Samaritan women were warned that Samaritan women constantly menstruated, were perpetually unclean. Never mind the biology, the disgust was routine.

Jacob’s well (not otherwise mentioned in the Bible) was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. Any Jew, or, indeed, any Samaritan, would be aware of “well stories” in the Bible and especially wells involving Jacob’s family. God’s business was often done at wells. And it is at Father Jacob’s well that Jesus asks for a drink. The woman of Samaria asks the obvious questions.

We have been told that the disciples “had gone off into the city to buy bread”. So the woman pointedly asks how it is that “You - a Jew (masculine, a Jewish man), ask me, a woman of Samaria” for a drink. There is a contradiction here. If the discples have gone off to the city to buy bread, how can it be asserted that “Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” (verse 9). Scholars examining ancient manuscripts suggest that the verse should be translated as “For Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans”, which makes more sense as the woman would have to give Jesus a vessel of some kind out of which to drink. It would, given the popular Jewish opinions, mean that such a vessel from the hands of an unclean woman would cause Jesus to be unclean. The woman’s question is at once a challenge to the religious intolerance and the racist mentality of Jews and it is an affirmation of her strength of character in the face of a male those whose people regarded themselves as “her betters”.

 

ACT I, SCEN ii : Who is this man?

The story advances to an identity crisis. Jesus, as ever in John’s Gospel, seeks to reveal who it is who has come to earth, that he is God’s greatest gift come to dwell amongst us. The gift is the Word made flesh for the life of the world (1:14 and 6:33). The word “life” occurs 47 times in John’s Gospel.


Jesus answered said to her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is saying to you, 'Give me a drink', you would have asked him and he would have given you living water" - (see Jeremiah 2:13; Jeremiah 17:13 - they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living water; Baruch 3:12 - you have forsaken the fountain of wisdom).

The woman says to him, "Kyrie, you have no bucket and the well is deep. So where are you going to get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?"

Jesus answered and said to her, "All who drink of this water will be thirsty again. But whoever drinks of the water that I shall give to him will not thirst for evermore (for eternity), but the water that I will give will become in him a spring of water bubbling up to eternal life".

The woman says to him, "Kyrie, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water".

 

What does the weary Jesus bring to the well? He brings himself, the gift of God. What does he give? He seeks to give to the woman the life that is in him so that she, in turn, may be a gift to her people. The catechesis Jesus offers is firmly rooted in the woman’s experience. If what this Jew has to offer is “living water” then she is all for it, except, of course, that the man has no bucket, and, besides, it looks like he is claiming to be able to give more than “our Father Jacob, who gave us this well”. Moving from the practical to the theological, she puts the identity question right back in his face. Is the “Who it is speaking to you” greater than “our Father Jacob”? For the woman “living water” is bubbling, flowing water, running past her front door. No more weary visits to the well. The Greek is typical of the many puns in this Gospel: τὸ ὕδωρ τὸ ζῶν (verse 11: the water of life or living water ) or ὕδωρ ζῶν (verse 10: living water) can be understood as flowing water, not stagnant water, or in the vocabulary of Jesus, it can and does mean “living water”, carrying very considerable theological weight.

Notice that the woman addressed Jesus as "Kyrie”. This is quite correctly translated as “Sir”. It is the word used in addressing the emperor. It is the address used by a slave to his master. It is the formal address a woman would use in public when addressing her husband, though not, I suspect, in the kitchen or bedroom. And it is the word which Greek translations used for YHWH, God’s unutterable name. It became the word that Greek speaking Christians used to convey the meaning of Jesus in relation to the Father in heaven. So it is a weighty word. When we pray Kyrie, eleison, to whom are we praying? I think we ought to leave “Kyrie” in the woman’s address and keep the ambiguity that would have been heard by the first listeners to John’s Gospel. Who is this Kυριoς, Lord?
Then Jesus becomes a little clearer. The water he will give will require no bucket, no trips to the well, or even to a flowing stream. It will be a source of water within, water welling up inside you. The woman eagerly jumps at the offer: no more thirst. No more trips to the well.

 

ACT II: SCENE I Who is this woman?

He says to her, "Go, call your husband, and come back here". The woman answered and said, '"I have no husband". Jesus says to her, "You have spoken well to say 'I have no husband'. For you have had five men, and the one you have now is not your husband. You have spoken the truth". (See 3:20-21; 8:32)

The woman says to him, "Kyrie, I see that you are a prophet. Our fathers (ancestors) worshipped on this mountain and you people are saying that Jerusalem is the place where it is necessary to worship". Jesus says to her, "Believe me, Woman, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you people worship the Father. You people worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. For such people the Father seeks out as worshippers of him. God is spirit, and it is necessary that those who worship him worship in spirit and in truth.

The woman says to him, "I know that the Messiah is coming, (the one called Christ). Whenever he comes, he will interpret to us all things".

Jesus says to her, "I AM, the one speaking to you".

Does anyone seriously believe that Jesus now attacks the woman in a brutal and intrusive inspection of her (alleged) sinful life? If he is the Son of God, he knows her situation and there is no need to throw it to her face. If he is offering “living waters”, does this come requiring fa public rehearsal of her sins?

No, he doesn’t. Jesus is not being rude, nasty, or guilty of not minding his own business (which, of course, is the Father’s business). The reply of the woman, “ I have no husband” says it all. This is a woman who has been passed from one man to another in a man’s world, where women were not permitted to divorce a husband, no matter what she endured from loveless men. She knew her Deuteronomy as well as Jesus did for Samaritans had adopted Judaism as their faith when a mixum-gatherum of people were dumped in Palestine. How about this for a marriage made in heaven?:

When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favour in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a bill of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, and the other man hates her and writes her a bill of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if he dies - the one who took her as his wife - then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she had been defiled, for that is an abomination before the LORD.
Deuteronomy 24:1-4

A defiled, unclean woman? Thrown out for spoiling the soup? For Jewish rabbis allowed divorce for the flimsiest of reasons. So what was a woman to do? Thrown out but if you are lucky some man will have you and give you a roof over your head, unless, of course, you get thrown out again for not cleaning the dust off his sandals? Perhaps, given the laws of dowry and of divorce, prostitution was the safest option when you are “sent out of his house”?

The woman, even more than Jesus (for he was unmarried) knows what the real world of marriage is like. Please see the depth of hurt and pain, and, indeed, wisdom born of experience, in the woman’s reply, in three words carrying a lifetime of pain:

Οὐκ ἔχω ἄνδρα.
I have no man. (literally)
I have no husband.

 

But please note the warmth and compassion of Jesus in his response to the woman:

λέγει αὐτῇ ὁ Ἰησοῦς· Καλῶς εἶπας
Jesus says to her: You have spoken rightly,
appropriately, appositely, well, a reply that describes accurately the situation you are in.

The adverb kαλῶς (kalōs) occurs 37 times in the New Testament and the most frequent usage is in the Gospel according to Mark where it occurs six times. Just a few will help us understand what Jesus is saying to the woman.
Mark 7:6 -
How appropriately did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites …
Mark 7:37 -
He has done all things well (kαλῶς).
Mark 12:32 -
How right (kαλῶς) you are! For you have truly (̓ἀληθείας) said …

Jesus senses the depth of feeling, the unfathomable suffering that the woman has uttered: I have no husband!
And then Jesus goes further. Recognising that she has entrusted herself for survival sake to five men and another one, Jesus profoundly agrees with the woman. Indeed, the one who have now is no husband to you. Has any of them, he implies, been husband to you? Then Jesus recognises the woman he has met at the well for what she is:
τοῦτο ἀληθὲς εἴρηκας.
This you have spoken truly
(three more words) .
To grasp the wonder of this woman in John’s Gospel you have to understand that “truth” is at the heart and in the soul of the Gospel according to John. Pilate’s question, What is truth? reveals who and what he is. There is a tiny fragment of an early manuscript of John’s Gospel in the John Ryland’s Library in Manchester. It may be the earliest piece of New Testament literature to survive. It is a part of that infamous and dismissive question: What is truth? It is right that this bit should survive.
In various grammatical forms, noun, verb, adjective, adverb, truth looms large in John’s Gospel. Digging deep in the origins of the Greek word, the basic meaning is to be found in our modern demand: Tell it like it is! It refers to disclosure, to revelation of the true reality of things. Above all, to speak truly is to disclose the disposition, the character of the speaker. To speak the truth is to reveal one’s integrity, to reveal that one has grasped and spoken the reality of things.
If we attend to a few sentences in John’s text, we will come to the truth of the words Jesus lovingly speaks to the woman. For John insists on the greatest of all realities. God really has come to earth in the incarnation of his Son. This is the glorious disclosure that envelopes the whole Gospel. To be a person of truth, one who speaks the truth, is to be one who knows and lives the heart of God. Consider:
1:14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.
Perhaps the most powerful, most revealing, and most profound assurance is this:
8:32 The truth shall set you free.
Words meaning “truly” or ‘in truth” occur 51 times in John’s Gospel. The word “truth” occurs 26 times. These words come before we meet the woman at the well:
He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. Whoever receive his witness sets his seal to this, that God is true.
John 3:31-33
The woman at the well is, for all her misery, a woman of truth. With such a woman Jesus can work miracles.

ACT II: SCENE II Two Theologians Talk
The woman says to him, "Kyrie, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers (ancestors) worshipped on this mountain and you people are saying that Jerusalem is the place where it is necessary to worship". Jesus says to her, "Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you people worship the Father. You people worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. For such people the Father seeks out as worshippers of him. God is spirit, and it is necessary that those who worship him worship in spirit and in truth.

The woman says to him, "I know that the Messiah is coming, (the one called Christ). Whenever he comes, he will interpret to us all things".

Jesus says to her,

I AM,

the one speaking to you".

 

The woman of Samaria recognises that the Jewish man speaks with the authority of a prophet. The word “prophet’ means “one who speaks on behalf of God”. We might say, “God’s public relations officer” or PRO. Not only a woman of truth but a woman of insight. So, so far, we have Jesus identified as a Jew, possibly greater than “our Father Jacob”. Now she perceives that this Jew is a prophet, one who speaks in God’s name.

This statement, “I perceive that you are a prophet” is not, as it often is, taken to be the equivalent as “I perceive you are a smart Alec” or one who is insultingly tramping over the miserable experience of this woman. This is to insist that Jesus is bent on emphasizing the sinfulness of this moral deviant. But there is no sin here to gloat over. There is tragic truth to be healed. What Jesus brings to light is the pain of this woman in a man’s world, What he sees in this woman is her potential.

And so to the theology. The woman defends her religious faith, rooted in what she and her people have inherited from their sacred traditions, from “our fathers” who worshipped on Mount Gerazim, which rises behind the well were they sat on the ground. That’s in my imagination, for rabbis always sat on the ground to teach and, at this stage of their meeting, I like to see them as a pair of rabbis getting down to the theology stuff.

The woman points out that the Jewish insistence that “Jerusalem is the place where it is necessary to worship". To her surprise, Jesus does not counter her argument and defend the Temple in Jerusalem as the only place where true worship must be done. He points to a new time, a new perception, a new theology of worship in a paragraph which transcends both the woman’s conviction and Jewish exclusivity. It is worth repeating what he said:

Believe me, Woman, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you people worship the Father. You people worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. For such people the Father seeks out as worshippers of him. God is spirit, and it is necessary that those who worship him worship in spirit and in truth.

[A slight pause here to deal with the fact that Jesus addresses this remarkable lady as “Woman”. This is not the done thing in the conventional manners prevailing in the world of Jesus nor in the Greek towns and cities where Christianity pitched its tent. There are strange, not to say unique, usages in this regard in John’s Gospel.

First, there is the wedding at Cana in Galilee. There Jesus addresses his mother (never named in this Gospel) simply as “Woman” (2:4). Again, at the foot of the cross, Jesus addresses his mother us: Woman, behold, your son (19: 26). There is no record in all Greek literature of a son so addressing his mother. Nor is there much evidence that addressing any woman with a curt “Woman” as he does in 4:21, was regular usage. Again, when Mary Magdalene weeps at the tomb of her beloved Jesus, the two angels address her thus: Woman, why are you weeping? (20:13). I think that the use in John’s Gospel is to highlight the universal significance of these three particular women. They stand out as uniquely important in our Christian story precisely because they are women. ]

True worship is not done exclusively in a building, nor in a designated town or city, but in spirit and in truth. For that essentially where the Father participates in our lives. The reason for this teaching in John is, it seems to me, profound. The word translated as “worship” occurs six times in this little dialogue between the woman and Jesus. The Greek verb is προσκυνεῖν (proskunien, to worship). It means “to prostrate oneself”, “to fall upon the knees and touch the ground with the forehead”. Some early Christian celebrations of the Lord’s Supper were carried out with the congregation prostrating themselves on the ground. This was usually done in Lent. In contrast, at Easter and after Easter, the congregation stood up with hands up in the air, fully extended, to proclaim the resurrection of Christ Jesus. Prostrating to the ground has a nuance of “LORD, have mercy” and true worship is always an outpouring of mercy, compassion, forgiveness. We begin our worship with an emphatic Kyrie, eleison.

Jesus often refers to his death as “his hour” or “the hour”. The word “hour” occurs 24 times in this Gospel. The effect of the death of Jesus is not for Jesus a future reality but an ever present reality (“But the hour in coming and is now here”, he says in 4:23.) He explains to the woman that the Spirit of God is not confined in its outpouring to time or space or place. It is an ever present reality in human existence. Such folk as recognize this are true worshippers for they realize the divine dimension in every moment of every life.

The woman now makes a theological leap. What Jesus is saying to her seems to direct her thoughts to a Messiah figure in Samaritan expectations, one known as Ta’eb, “he who returns”. This figure was thought of as a political leader who would restore independence and peace, be a teacher in the rôle of a new Moses, and a priest who would inaugurate true worship and all truth. So the words of Jesus and the expectations of the women to a great extent coincide. As the future is unfolded by Jesus, she interjects that her Messiah will, in fact, “proclaim all things to us”. I love that subtle “us”. To us Samaritans? To us Jews and Samaritans? Or maybe she means all of us who are standing in the need prayer?

And then the surprise for her and for us:

Jesus says to her, “I AM, the one speaking to you”.
The force of this declaration is only realized after a very careful and attentive reading of chapter 8. If you can grasp the freedom to believe in the true identity of the Son, then you are free indeed: If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (8:36). The truth shall set you free (8:32). If we can grasp and steadily hold to the truth that sets us free, then we have come to know and to belive in this:

Before Abraham was,
I AM. 8:57

That is what this Samaritan, a woman at that, learns from her time at the well with Jesus the Jew. There is only one Christian question: Who do you say that I am? Everything else is a footnote.

ACT 3: SCENE I Talking with a woman?

At this point, his disciples came, and they were wondering that he was talking to a woman, but no one said, " What are you seeking?" or "Why are you talking with her?"

At this point the men come back. They marvelled that Jesus had been talking to a woman. Not to a Samaritan. Not to a Samaritan woman. But to a woman. There is no definite article. No adjective qualifying the woman. Talking to a woman, any woman is for these guys over the top. Nothing much has changed.

ACT 3: SCENE II The Act of the Apostle

.
Thereupon the woman left her water jar and went back
into the city. She said to the people. "Come, see
someone who told me all that I ever did.
Could this be the Messiah?”
They were leaving the city and were coming to him.

 

The woman doesn’t stand around. She leaves her water jar (as blind Bartimaeus, on receiving his sight, left his cloak) land immediately went to the city and told her story. She reports a meeting with a man who looked into her life and with such penetrating insight that she was persuaded that this man might be God’s Messiah. The people of the city, as a result of her witness, were streaming out of the city and were coming to him.

The use of the imperfect tense (continuous action in the past) suggests more than a one-off event but a continuous coming to Jesus. There was a significant Christian mission from Jerusalem to the Samaritans as the ministry of Philip shows (Acts of the Apostles 8:4-8). It is more than possible that St Stephen was a Samaritan and his death outside Jerusalem at the hands of a mob led to a “a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1-2). It is well to remember the Samaritan leper who was the only one of the ten who came back to Jesus to give thanks (Luke 17:11-19). And everyone remembers the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

ACT 3: SCENE III A Lesson for Learners

In between-time, the disciples were asking him, saying, "Rabbi, eat!" But he said to them, "I have food to eat about which you don't know". So the disciples were saying to one another, "Surely no one has brought him anything to eat?"
Jesus says to them, "My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to bring to completion his work. Do you not say, ‘It's but four months and the harvest comes?' Behold, I'm saying to you, 'Lift up your eyes and see the fields, for they are white with harvest. Already the harvester is taking his pay, and is gathering fruit for eternal life, for the sower and reaper rejoice together'. In this respect, the word is true: 'One sows, another reaps'. I sent you to reap that for which you had not laboured. Others did the work, and you have entered into their toil."

It is crucial to realize that the word “disciple” in our Gospels does not mean “a follower of Jesus” (there are other words for that.) The Greek οἱ μαθηταὶ (hoi mathētai, the disciples) refers to a group of learners, pupils, students, apprentices, who were close to Jesus and learning from him, so that, after the resurrection, the Risen Lord might send them out to proclaim the gospel of God. Some of these made up a special group named The Twelve who, in the lifetime of Jesus were not the brightest, the bravest, nor the most loyal of those close to our Lord Jesus. But, with the gift of the Spirit, they were transformed.

Jesus instructs them here in the nature of his mission. He has been sent, that is, he is an apostle of his Father, as they are to be his apostles. In his ministry the reaping of the harvest has begun and they must know the bread on which Jesus thrives is not to be bought in the local shop. His hunger is for the wellbeing of people who must be gathered into God’s safe keeping. Jesus, and the prophets before him, have labored to gather the harvest into the safety of God’s barns. His disciples are invited to join in the work.

ACT 3: SCENE IV The Saviour of the World

Many of the Samaritans of that city believed in him because of the woman's witnessing to the effect that, "He told me everything I ever did". So when the Samaritans came to him, they were asking him to remain with them, and he remained there for two days. And many more believed on account of his word, and they were saying to the woman, "It's not because of your talk that we believe. For we have heard for ourselves, and we know that, in truth, this man is the Saviour of the world!"

The witness of the woman has brought Samaritans to the Lord and they have begged him to remain with them. For two days he stays with them, enough to convince many to believe in him. Some believed on the word of the woman. Many more came to faith on hearing the words of Jesus. The woman’s work is done for she has brought the people to Jesus and she fades from the picture. People have heard for themselves and have come to faith, come to know the truth, that in finding Jesus, they have found the Saviour of the world.

The title “Saviour of the World” is not very common in the New Testament. It is found here and in the First Letter of John 4:14. But it is certainly worth a meditation or three in the season of Lent. Indeed it is a title for all seasons.

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Joseph O’Hanlon 

 

 

 

 

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