Weekly Bible Reflection
Matthew's Communities of Justice
Third Sunday of Lent
John 4.5-42 :
Begin by using the Method as outlined
Have you ever had to go a long time without water, or visited a place where water was in short supply?
What impact did this have on the value you place on the gift of water?
Reflection on the text
Here was a woman going about her daily routine. It came as a shock that a Jewish man should speak with a Samaritan (v9), and a surprise to Jesus’ disciples to find him in conversation with a woman (v27).
He violates all the rules - of ritual purity, gender relations, culture and religion - as they talk about the deepest of human longings and unrecognised needs. He makes himself vulnerable, so changing the dynamic between sworn enemies.
The woman begins to see that her personal needs run far deeper than just a drink of water. Slowly, her eyes are opened to the truth about Jesus (v26, 29).
The conversation enlarges around fragmented relationships (v18) and how brokenness, and barriers of race, are transcended before God. Jesus comes not to shame but to empower and transform the lives of individuals (v14) and communities (v39-41). His disciples’ stereotyped views are also challenged by how he shows the woman respect, and the serious way he engages with her.
Jesus shows that the Kingdom of God is about relationships, and personal affirmation, inclusion, human dignity and empowerment. This story challenges the brokenness and poverty of our vision that makes us settle for less than we might hope for or are capable of achieving.
And it is also an eye-opener regarding the relationship between place and worship. Jesus liberates us from being bound to special sacred locations (v24).
- Imagine for a moment that you were the woman in this story. How would you feel in meeting someone who seemed to know all about you and things in your life that you thought were hidden?
Especially him showing you respect and engaging you in conversation which goes against the norm?
Who are the ‘outsiders’ in need of receiving acceptance and care in your neighbourhood?
- Is there a place in your community that is like the well? A place people come to, and perhaps gather together, but are unnoticed and largely ignored?
Who are they? Where do they come from? What brings them here? And what does it mean to be Jesus in this situation?
- How do you feel about the importance of sacred places of pilgrimage (such as Jerusalem, Rome, Walsingham, Iona, Lindisfarne or ancient church buildings) in the light of Jesus’ words in verses 23 and 24?
Pray for each other, recalling anything here that has challenged you in some way.
Remember places where ethnic and religious hatred and fear spills over into brutality and conflict.
Pray for a willingness to examine attitudes and ask God for help in overcoming prejudices, creating a more just world.
Pray for those who have experienced a breakdown in a relationship and look for acceptance and support, and those who work for Relate and similar agencies.
Pray for the people of Nablus and the Palestinian West Bank, and for all who strive for a just and lasting peace between Israel and the people of Palestine.
More background information
The town of Sychar and supposed site of Jacob’s Well is thought to be located on the edge of the modern Palestinian city of Nablus on the West Bank, with a population of over 200,000. An oldchurch,erected over the well, was destroyed but restoredbytheCrusaders. Today, Jacob's Well standswithin the walled complexofa Greek Orthodox monastery.
The wall around the city has been replaced by a wall between Israel and the West Bank Palestinian territory. The ancient town of Sychar and the modern city of Nablus have at least one thing in common, as cities not reconciled with their neighbours.
In Jesus' time (30AD) it seems likely that the well was a muddy hole in theground, dug deeper and deeper, by hand, year by year as the water table declined. Women would have climbed down perilous steps with their buckets, kicking mud into the water below as they went. So the water would have been pretty unpleasant, as the story implies. (Think of similar wells and water supplies in some of the poorer parts of Africa and Asia today.)
There is a reference (V12) to the olden days (1700BC?) when the water from the well was pure and fresh. One can imagine, not a hole in the ground, but a spring bubbling up on the surface, as they do inthe Mendips and Yorkshire Dales, with an area of lush grass and vegetation around, fed by the minerals which the spring brought up from caves beneath. So, in Jacob's day it would have been a place to bring the sheep for food and water - a place full of rich life, refreshment and nourishment.