Exegesis of John 4:4-15
Step One - Acquaintance
English Translations: (John 4:7 NIV) When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, "Will you give me a drink?" (John 4:7 NRSV) A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink."
(John 4:9 NIV) The Samaritan woman said to him, "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?" (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
(John 4:9 NRSV) The Samaritan woman said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?" (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)
(John 4:10 NIV) Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water."
(John 4:10 NRSV) Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water."
(John 4:14 NIV) but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."
(John 4:14 NRSV) but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life."
Rough Translation: 4 He had to pass through Samaria; 5 and his travels brought him to a Samaritan town called Shechem, near the plot of land which Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 This was the site of Jacob's well; and so Jesus, tired from the journey, sat down at the well. It was about noon; 7 and when a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink." (8 His disciples had gone into town to buy supplies.) 9 But the Samaritan woman said to him, "You are a Jew - how can you ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?" (Jews remember, use nothing in common with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus replied: "If only you recognized God's gift and who it is that is asking you for a drink, you would have asked him instead, and he would have given you living water." 11"Sir," she addressed him, "You haven't even a bucket, and his well is deep. Where, then, are you going to get this flowing water? 12 Surely, you don't pretend to be greater than our ancestor Jacob who gave us this well and drank from it with his sons and flocks?" 13 Jesus replied: "everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again. 14 But whoever drinks this water I shall give him shall never be thirsty. Rather, the water I shall give him will become within him a fountain of water leaping up into eternal life." 15 The woman said to him, "Give me this water, sir, so that I won't get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water." (1)
Textual Criticism: Raymond Brown prefers the Samaritan town called Shechem as opposed to Sychar. Almost all manuscripts read Sychar. However, a Syriac witness reads Shechem. (2)
Step II - Disposition
Genre: The text is a typical dialogue and narrative text for John. As in John 3:3 he uses words that have double meanings like living water that lead to misunderstanding. She thinks he is talking about physical water when he is talking about spiritual water. As in other texts irony is used here. The woman says asks if Jesus is greater than Jacob without knowing that she is making a truth claim. Also she says give me some of that living water and she is not talking about the same thing as Jesus. This text is a part of the longest dialogue in John's Gospel. There is a progression in the text in the dialogue. She is moving toward some sort of understanding of who Jesus is as Son of God.
Personal Interaction: Why did Jesus have to go to Jerusalem? What is the reference to Jacob's well and other well stories? Is there some significance to the use of water in John? I've noticed that there are several references in water in John. What is the source of the tension between the Samaritans and Jews in the text? Why does John make such a big deal out of the reference to Jacob? Where is this text moving? It seems that there is a progression in the text in understanding who Jesus is? Where is it leading? The big question for me is "Where do we get this living water?" And what is the living water. I'm interested in the end of the text where he says that it is bubbling up. What doe sit look like and what does it do.
Step III - Composition
Immediate context: This text is a part of the largest dialogue in John's Gospel. It can be divided into four scenes with a prologue.
4:4-6 The prologue.
4:7-15 Encounter with woman at the well.
4:16-26 Further dialogue with the woman at the well.
4:27-38 The disciples rejoin Jesus.
4:39-42 Many of the Samaritans come to believe in Jesus.
There is a movement in this text from you are Jew, to you are a prophet, to you are the savior of the world.
Larger Context in Composition: This text follows Jesus encounter with a Jewish Leader. Here Jesus crosses a racial divide in their culture to give expression to John 3:16. Jesus is the savior of the whole world. The use of water is a major theme in the gospel. Jesus transforms the water into wine. Jesus says that we must be born of the water and the spirit.
Issues of Authorship: Once again it is easy to see that there must have been a Jew non-Jewish debate going on in the author's community. Judaism to Christianity is the difference between water and wine. Hence, the reference is made here to Jesus being greater than Jacob. He's not just a great leader. Jesus is the Christ. John is also making the same point over and over again. Jesus is God's gift to the world. Those who believe in him will not be condemned but will be given eternal life. But we do not see Jesus forcing the issue.
Step IV - Context
Primitive Christianity: This story is unique to John's gospel. I see a direct relationship between this text and the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22. The living water is something that comes from God alone. It is like the wind described in John chapter 3. When we live from the place of the living water the fruits of the spirit are produced. Not from us but from God.
Hebrew Context: Every one reading this text would be aware of the historic dislike between Jews and Samaritans. The problem began after the nation split in two. The Samaritans represent the Northern Kingdom. The Assyrians moved in and occupied the Northern Kingdom. Intermarriage and such took place. They often joined in battles against Judah. The Schism widened around 200 BCE when they set up their own temple on Mt. Gerizim during the Persian occupation. In 128 BCE Jewish troops destroyed the temple on Mt Gerizim. A lot of animosity was present at the time of Jesus. (3)
Step V - Distillation
Salient Features: John is making two things clear in this text. 1) Jesus is the savior of the world. This is seen in the progression that takes place in the narrative form "You are a Jew" to "You are the Savior of the World." 2) Jesus is the savior of the whole world. It is quite clear that John is trying to flesh out what it means to say that Jesus is the light of the world, the Jesus is the word of God, that Jesus is God's gift to the world. The reference here to the living water is the presence of Jesus in the life of the believer. A believer does not have to go to the well over and over again. All they must do is draw on what is already within them.
Hermeneutical Bridge: Jesus had to pass through Samaria implies that Jesus was led by the spirit. This is like saying that Jesus had to pass through the 5th ward in Houston. This implies that something is afoot here. When are those times in our lives when we have had to go through some place we 'd rather avoid to accomplish God's call in our life.
Note when the woman went to the well to draw water Jesus was there. When we are thirsty Jesus is there. That is the point I think. We are all tired and thirsty. But Jesus is there with an offer of water to satisfy us.
We must be born of the water and the spirit. You must drink of the living water. Water burst from Jesus' side. He cups his hands and gives us this living water. I feel however that I've been drinking from a stagnant pond. It is powerful to think that this living water comes out of the very being of Christ and that it is now inside of us.
Water is the source of all life? Where there is water there is life? Where there is no water there is no life? Would you say that you life right now is green with growth? Or would you describe your life as brown and dry? You might say that it is green with brown at the edges?
I see the Christian life as a journey across a desert. I can take a big drink of water and then head out. I can carry a canteen and take drinks along the way. Or, I can be sustained by the water that is bubbling up within me. To draw on that water I was live my life from that place where God is in me
I'm thinking of a tree with its roots. 1) When a tree is planted the roots will sink deep into the soil to find the water it needs. 2) It does not pull its roots up and move on. It keeps itself rooted in the source of it's life. I'm sitting here today and I'm looking at these amazing redwoods. I'm wondering how I can become a spiritual redwood too.
It occurs to me that two weeks ago I preached a sermon on making good choices. Last week I preached on the idea that a conversion is a life- time process. Both of these suggest a journey motif. The question then is where do I get the living water I need to sustain me?
Our tendency is to see God as something distinct from us. We go to God to get what we need and then we go on with our life. The key is beginning to see ourselves being in God's presence all of the time. Do the work of God is not about me it is all about God and God provides us the resources we need. We just need to keep rooted in those resources. I need to remember that when I act from that place inside of me where God is that's where my freedom and life and energy and creativity comes from. To access it though I have to dive down deep below by self-image, my hurts and fears. But it is flowing deep inside me.
Related texts to work into the sermon. Isaiah 61:10-11; Galatians 5:22, & John 4:37-38. (John 4:37-38 NIV) Thus the saying 'One sows and another reaps' is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor." The idea here is that we do not have to worry about what how we are going to get it done. Jesus will provide the resources we need.
(Psa 1:3 NIV) He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.
(Jer 17:7-8 NIV) "But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit."
(Rev 21:1-2 NIV) Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
O God I am thirsty for your living water. I have been drinking from a stagnant pond. The pond is filled with my sorrows, my anxieties, my fears, and my grudges. What I long for O God is fresh water - water that will quench my thirst and sustain me for the journey ahead. Give me this living water O God; the desire of my heart is great.
Step VI - Contemporary Address.
Description of Audience: This is a very thirsty congregation. They are thirsty for the living water. They have attempted to satisfy their thirst with possessions and relationships and self-help books. But they are not satisfied. What they need is the living water. They need to tap into the spring of living water that is inside them. It is already there and it is flowing, fresh, and deep. They need to know that the well is not in the church building. It is not in the Bible. It is inside them.
Goals For address: The sermon will deal with the living water that Jesus offers us. The question is where do we get this living water. I want to point out to them the spring is flowing from the side of Jesus through them. I want to show them how to sink their roots into the stream.
Pastoral Prayer: O God, we come to the temple this morning as pilgrims seeking your presence and the whole truth about ourselves. We staggered into the sanctuary drunk on the bitter spirits brewed in our false images of ourselves. We have been drinking from stagnant ponds filled with the poison of our fears, anxieties, sorrows, and grudges. What we long for this morning is some fresh water to cleanse our souls. O God, of the living water, flood our hearts with your presence. May everything that is brown in us become green. May everything that is dry in us become moist with life.
Many of us like are tired like Jesus and need to sit down by a well. Some of us are tired of our struggle with grief. Some of us are worn out from our work. They wonder when their sense of playfulness died. Where did the little boy or little girl go that was so full of life? How we long for that child to return. Some are wrestling with their families. Many are struggling with illness and disease. And there are those whose faith has become dusty and dry. As deer longs for the flowing water we long for you O God. Remind us Lord that Jesus is there at the well. He is there with us with his hands cupped with water. Water that pours out of him and into us. His very life and love.
Thank you for loving us God. What we need is just a moment of rest in your heart. What we need is to sink our roots into you, who is the source of all life. But to do so we have to dive below the destructive images we have of ourselves and the hurts that are deep inside. Give us a clear day so that we can sink our roots into you. Remove the obstructions. Our praise is great God. Our desires for you are strong. In Christ's name we pray as Jesus taught us…
(1) The Gospel According to John, Raymond Brown, Doubleday & Co., 1966, pp. 166-167.
(2) Ibid., p.169.
(3) The New Interpreters Bible: Luke and John, Vol. IX; Abingdon Press, 1995, p.563
Address: Where Can You Get This Living Water?
Where Do You Get The Living Water? John 4:4-15
By DPE March 3rd, 2002
Introduction: Looking for spot to sit down at the airport. I was tired from a very full morning at the church. Just wanted to be left alone to read. There were a hundred of empty seats in the area I picked. No one was anywhere near. Nothing worse than telling people in a crowded airport you are a minister. Either the place clears. Or people line up for counseling. I was really enjoying my silence when I noticed a middle age woman walking toward me. She looked like a buzzard circling overhead. With hundreds of available seats to chose from she chose the one next to me. I buried my head deep in a book hoping she wouldn't talk to me. After five minutes she blurted out, "I've got to find a dentist in Atlanta." She talked me into a coma. I did not escape until my plane boarded.
The Lesson: In our lesson Jesus was tired and worn out too. He was in the middle of seventy-mile trek from Jerusalem to Galilee. Don't you love the humanity in the lesson? Jesus gets tired and needs to sit down. The text says Jesus picked an isolated spot by the well. No one would bother him by the well. At least he didn't think so. People only draw water in the early morning hours and the evening. The disciples went into town for food. Then he sees a Samaritan woman walking toward him with a bucket. No rest for the weary. I wonder if he buried his head in the Torah. Unlike me Jesus doesn't ignore the woman. He speaks to her even when he did not have too. Custom would dictate that she wouldn't speak to him.
The Dialogue: What follows is a delightful exchange between Jesus and the woman at the well. Curiously, it is the longest narrative in John's Gospel. He asks her for a drink of water. She wants to know why a Jewish man was talking to a Samaritan woman. Jewish men did not speak to women other than those in their immediate family, much less a Samaritan woman. He tells her that if she knew who he was she would ask him for a drink of water. She then asks how he is going to draw the water without a bucket. There is a debate whether or not he is greater than Jacob. She gives him a-kind-of who do you think you are stares. In the end Jesus offers her living water. Better yet he tells her that she will never be thirsty again if she drinks it. The passage has a playful element to it; because the woman never gets it. This kind of misunderstanding occurs frequently in John's Gospel. Remember Nicodemus. "How can I enter my mother's womb a second time. Here Jesus is talking about her spiritual thirst. But the woman thinks he is talking about the dust in her throat.
The Big Purpose: The story fulfills two important theological purposes for John. 1) John wants us to know that Jesus is the savior of the world. There is a progression in the text that begins in verse 4 and ends in verse 42. It moves from you are a Jew, to you are prophet, to miracle worker, and to you are the savior of the world. 2) John wants us to understand that Jesus is the savior of the whole world. Not just for Jews. Not just for Judah. There is progression from the temple, to a Jewish leader, to Samaria. These two points put flesh on John 3:16-17: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. This was especially important for John's community, where the Jewish- Gentile debate was alive and well.
The Life Connection: Many wonderful insights into our faith can be drawn from the depths of this text. When I dipped my bucket into the well a rich metaphor came up. What came up for me is the idea that the Christian faith is a journey across a desert. Remember our conversion is a lifetime process. It is a journey across a desert. An image: a dirty, dry, sunburned man, a hot desert decorated with the bones of those didn't make it. We set out with great hopes that we will make it. We press on beyond our physical limits. Yet along the way we get tired, worn out, and discouraged. When we can go no further we sit down. Some of you are there right now. You are tired and discouraged. The buzzards are circling overhead even now.
The Good News: However, there is good news for weary travelers like you and me. Jesus is in the desert with you and you don't have to look far to find him. Wherever you are Jesus is there with the water you need. Where there is water there is life. Where there is no water there is no life. Where there is Jesus there is life. Without Jesus there is no life. So there he is with his hands cupped in front of you with the water you need. Do you know where the water comes from? There is a powerful reference in John 20:34. Says in the text that water and blood poured from the side of Jesus when he was run through with a spear. The water comes from the very heart of God. It is living water because it comes from the heart of God. An image: Jesus cups his hands at his side to catch the water. Then he extends his hands to you to drink. What an amazing God we have? The good news then is that you have the water that you need. But you've got to ask for a drink.
What We do? In San Francisco God revealed something powerful to me. This is how many of us live out the journey, however. We take a big gulp and hope it will get us across the desert. We carry a canteen and takes sip along the way. It's like coming to church on Sunday and getting our drink and then heading out into the world. Neither however is very satisfying. Especially when there is an endless stream of water running through us.
Most Amazing Thing: What you need is already inside of you. All the water we need is already there. We don't have to take the big gulp or carry the canteen. In fact, the word here in the text is means the water is leaping up inside of us. It's a bubbling stream.
(Isa 61:1-2 NIV) "The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn…"
I read this and my chest begins to tighten, my shoulders get stiff, my anxiety level doubles. How will I do these things God has called me to do. Then I read…
(Isa 61:10-11 NIV) I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.
The idea then is that everything we need for the journey is inside us. We must remember it is God doing the work and not us. God gives us the resources we need. But we want have what we need if we don't tap into them.
Our Tendency: Our tendency is to see God as something distinct from us. We go to God to get what we need and then we go on with our life. The key is our beginning to see ourselves being in God's presence all of the time. That we become one with God when Christ comes to live in us.
Too Abstract? How about this then? The water is that deep part inside of you where God lives. It is the place where your true identity in God is found. It is that place in you that names you a beloved child of God. It is far below your self-image. It is far below your sorrows. It is far below your fears. It is a deep stream. And to get to it you've got get down below that self-image and way down below those hurts to the real presence of God inside of you to begin living from there.
The Tree Image: I was thinking about all of this when I was sitting outside last Friday. What is that like for us I kept asking myself? The answer was right there in front of me in a redwood that was several hundred feet tall. Those redwoods have an extensive root system. I thought we've got to sink our roots into the stream of living water running trough us. Then I went to the Bible and found some rich metaphors.
(Jeremiah 17:7-8 NIV) "But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit."
The Fruits: The result of living from that place is the fruits of the spirit. We worry about how we are going to do it. We worry how we are going to make the changes. When all we must do is spend our time in the presence of God. There is where life comes from. There is the origin of freedom, hope, and creative energy. God doesn't want us to figure it out God wants us to spend our time with him. (Gal 5:22 NIV) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness…." The image: a green oasis in the middle of the desert.
The Invitation: The invitation comes to us from Christ to sink our roots into his presence.
My Prayer: My prayer for us is that our desire for God's presence will become great. My prayer is God's presence will become our greatest desire. For it is the source of all freedom, hope, and creativity.
Let us pray. O God, we are thirsty for your living water. We have been drinking from a stagnant pond. The pond is filled with my sorrows, my anxieties, my fears, and my grudges. We long for fresh water - water that will quench our thirst and sustain us for the journey ahead. Increase our desire for you, O God. Don't let us be content to stay on the surface. Bathe our souls in this living water. O God, the desire of our hearts is great.