Sharing John's Gospel
by Craig Bogley

Session 5 - Jesus and the Samaritan Woman (John 4:1-30)

Environment - Equivalent to Session 1

Prayer - "Bring More of What I Dream" (Ted Loder, Guerillas of Grace, 109)

Reading - John 4:1-30. Have one person read the entire passage clearly and slowly. Suggest that each person listen carefully for the essence of this story of the spiritual transformation of the Samaritan woman. Also try to locate the thematic break in the narrative.

1. Where is the thematic break in the narrative?

Facilitator - A thematic break occurs at the end of verse 15. Until then Jesus and the Samaritan woman are at cross purposes concerning thirst, wells, the gift of water, and life. Thereafter, the nature of Jesus identity, and the place and nature of true worship are the focus.

Reading - John 4:1-15. Select a second reader to reread the first fifteen verses. Suggest that each person discern the motivation for Jesus movement from Judea to Galilee.

2. Do you think that the Pharisees' having heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John is sufficient reason for Jesus to flee Judea?

Facilitator - There is no reason for Jesus to fear the Pharisees because of a successful baptismal ministry. Once there was one baptizer, then there were two, John and Jesus (1:28). "Although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples,"(4:2) has been troublesome to scholars and is often regarded as an addition to the original Gospel. It could be in conflict with, "After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he spent time there with them and baptized"(3:22). However, both historically and for the Fourth Gospel the significance of Jesus was not for his baptismal ministry, but as the one who makes God known. He did baptize but his ministry was carried on by his disciples. In verse 2, we see that Jesus apparently delegated baptism to his growing number of disciples. This would give the Pharisees good reason to move against the threat of a rapidly spreading Jesus-movement. When Jesus realized this, he heads toward Galilee. It is not clear that he must pass through Samaria for geographical reasons, but it is reasonable for Jesus to act out his story. For reason of divine necessity, Jesus must move into the world beyond Israel.

3. What narrative purpose does Jesus' stopping at the well of Jacob serve?

Facilitator - It makes good sense that Jesus should rest at a well during his long journey at the middle of the day. The Samaritan location and the fact that this is Jacob's well which was a gift to his son Joseph, introduces the theme of gift which Jesus parallels with the gift of God in the form of "living water" which he is prepared to give the Samaritan woman.

4. For what two reasons should Jesus not speak to the Samaritan woman? What narrative elements emerge from the dialogue?

Facilitator - First, she is a woman and second, she is a Samaritan, nevertheless Jesus addresses her with the imperative, "Give me a drink" (4:7). The disciples have gone away to purchase food and do not witness the scandalous encounter. Three narrative elements emerge from the encounter: Jesus is prepared to share with the woman, the theme of water is introduced, and an insistence that on the Samaritan side, the world of the Samaritans is not the world of Judaism.

5. Rather than answer the question, "How is it that you a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria," Jesus announces what two truths which form the basis for further dialogue (4:9)?

Facilitator - The gift of God and "who is speaking too you" provide the basis for further discussion (4:10). The first part focuses on the living water as the gift, and the second part concentrates on the identity of Jesus.

6. Why does the woman fail to understand "the living" water that will well up to eternal life; a gift that only God can give?

Facilitator - First, the Greek words for living water, hydor zon, are open to two meanings. One is flowing water; the other is a spiritual connotation, beyond the physical reality of water. This latter meaning has a long history in biblical and other traditions from antiquity. Here, the woman can only respond to the physical reality which she understands, "Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water" (4:11)? Notice that in this verse she addresses Jesus with the more respectful title of "Sir" rather than "a Jew" (4:9). Notice also that she cannot imagine that the origins of the well, a gift from Jacob, can be surpassed by this Jew: "Are you greater than our father Jacob" (4:12)? At the end of the first half of the story, the Samaritan woman misunderstands the nature of the gift in a physical and selfish sense, thus depicting her as having no faith in the words of Jesus. But she does not have the hostility exhibited by "the Jews" who rejected the words of Jesus: "The Jews then said, It has taken forty-six years to build this Temple, and will you raise it up in three days" (2:20)? Her rejection of the word of Jesus does not bring her role to a conclusion.

Reading - John 4:16-30. Assign a third person to reread the last fifteen verses. Suggest that the audience listen for the progression of the Samaritan woman's' understanding of Jesus.

7. In what direction does Jesus take the initial discussion in the second half of the narrative (4:16-30)?

Facilitator - The question of the gift of water disappears, while focus is directed to the woman's marital situation (4:16-19). Jesus discerns from her reply that she has no husband to be truthful (4:17). He then proceeds to tell her all of the details of her marital past (4:18). This parallels Jesus' earlier revelation of Nathanael's private life (1:48). At this she confesses: "Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet" (4:19).

8. Why do you think the woman next addresses the question of the location of true worship, Gerizim or Jerusalem (4:20)?

Facilitator - The woman having perceived that Jesus could be a prophet, addresses the age-old question on the location of worship. Jesus' response transcends her limited knowledge of Jesus as prophet, drawing her into a deeper understanding of his person and role (4:21). Jesus then speaks to her of the superiority of the Jewish traditions (4:22).

9. How do the Jewish traditions bear the authority of Jesus?

Facilitator - Jewish traditions reflect the authentic revelation of God; the vague traditions of the Samaritans have no such authority. Salvation is from the Jews, Jesus is the one who brings salvation (4:22). In this passage Jesus is revealing himself and the way to the Father to a non-Jewish world.

10. How does Jesus explain the new time and place of worship?

Facilitator - Jesus informs the woman that "the hour is coming and now is" (4:23). Both Gerizim and Jerusalem are transcended as places of worship because the new place of worship is already present in the person of Jesus where the true worshiper worships the Father in spirit and in truth. In spirit and truth are important Johannine terms in which Jesus reveals a God and Father who is to be worshiped with one's whole life. The Father seeks us out in a causative action without which a response of true worship is impossible (4:23).

11. Do you think the woman's response is indicative of her comprehension of these truths?

Facilitator - Jesus' identity is still to be discovered by the woman as she falls back on another of her tradition. She says "I know that Messiah is coming, he who is called Christ; when he comes he will show us all things" (4:25).

12. What interpretation do you place on Jesus "I am" statement following her response?

Facilitator - Many scholars see this as an acceptance of the woman's suggestion that he might be the Christ. Moloney suggests that Jesus is again attempting to help the woman transcend her limited understanding of the Messiah-Christ which falls short of identifying Him with God. This parallels Jesus' attempt to lead Nicodemus beyond the limitations of his understanding. Hence Moloney concludes that Jesus' words on true worship and his self-revelation as "I am" have been missed by the woman.

13. What is revealed about the disciples perceptions of Jesus by their unspoken questions when they see Jesus speaking to the woman (4:27)?

Facilitator - The disciples join the scene near its conclusion. They are shocked, but say nothing. Moloney following Schnackenburg believes that behind the questions lie the disciples own concerns about the identification of Jesus (4:27).

14. What do we learn about the woman's understanding when she returns to the city (4:29)?

Facilitator - The woman invites the people to "see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ" (4-29)? This expresses her on-going uncertainty about Jesus' identity. She can accept even that he might be "a Messiah-Christ," but does not comprehend Jesus as "I am" (4:26). Like Nicodemus she has arrived at only a partial belief in Jesus.

Closing Prayer - "Release Me" (Ted Loder, Guerillas of Grace, 110).

For Session 6 - Read John 6-8, esp. the Bread of Life Discourse (6:22-71)

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