THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN
CHAPTER 4:
The Presentation of the Son of God in Samaria and
The Presentation of the Son of God in Galilee

"The Savior is working mightily among men, every day He is invisibly persuading numbers of people all over the world, both within and beyond the Greek-speaking world, to accept His faith and be obedient to His teaching.  Can anyone, in the face of all this, still doubt that He has risen and lives, or rather that He is Himself the Life?"
-St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation [30] 4th century

"The king of Assyria invaded the whole country and, coming to Samaria, laid siege to it for three years.  In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria captured Samaria and deported the Israelites to Assyria".  (24) "The king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath and Sepharvaim, and settled them in the towns of Samaria to replace the Israelites; these took possession of Samaria and lived in its towns." (29) "Each nationality made gods of its own and put them in the shrines on the high places built by the Samaritans; each nationality did this in the towns where it lived."  (32) "They worshipped Yahweh as well, and they appointed priests out of their own number for the high places, and these officiated in the shrines on the high places.  They worshipped Yahweh and served their own gods at the same time..."
2 Kings 17: 5-6, 24, 29, 32

Yahweh promising the restoration of Israel: 'When that day comes' declares Yahweh 'you will call me, "My husband", no more will you call me, "My Baal".  I shall banish the names of the Baals from her lips and their name will be mentioned no more....Yes, I shall betroth you to myself for ever...' Hosea 2:(16) 18-(17) 19, and 21 (19)

+ + +

Jesus in SAMARIA
  V.  THE PRESENTATION OF THE SON OF GOD IN SAMARIA 4:1-42
              A.  Jesus and the Samaritan Woman 4:1-26
              B.  Jesus teaches His Disciples 4:27-38
              C.  Jesus witnesses to Samaria 4:39-42
Jesus in GALILEE
  VI. THE PRESENTATION OF THE SON OF GOD IN THE GALILEE 4:43-54
               A.  Christ is received by the Galileans Cana and Capernaum 4:43-45
               B.  SIGN #2: Jesus heals the royal official's son 4:46-54

The Presentation of the Son of God in Samaria

Please read John 4:1-26

Question: The encounter with the man Nicodemus in John 3:1-21 and the encounter in Chapter 4 with the woman of Samaria are separated by what incident and dialogue?  What is the link?

Answer: The baptizing incident of 3:22-30 and John's discourse on Jesus as the bridegroom of the purified Bride, the Church.  Baptism is the link.  In the encounter with Nicodemus the teaching is that through water and the Spirit a new birth is promised.  In the encounter with the Samaritan woman the symbolism is different: not a birth through water, but the drinking of living water.  Nevertheless, in both cases, the water is a symbol of the Spirit and the link is the sacrament of baptism.  St. Paul links these two symbols of water and the Spirit with baptism in 1 Corthians 12:13 We were baptized into one body in a single Spirit, Jews as well as Greeks, slaves as well as free men, and we were all given the same Spirit to drink.

Jesus witnesses to the Samaritan woman - Scene I

 John 4:1-4: When Jesus heard that the Pharisees had found out that he was making and baptizing more disciples than John (though in fact it was his disciples who baptized, not Jesus himself) he left Judea and went back to Galilee. He had to pass through Samaria.

This is the only passage in the Gospels where it is recorded that Jesus' disciples are baptizing.

Question: What kind of baptism is it that Jesus' disciples are giving?

Answer: It must be a baptism of repentance, similar to the baptism offered by John the Baptist since the baptism of Christ cannot be offered until after the crucifixion and resurrection.  St. John Chrysostom writes that ...both baptisms, that of St. John the Baptist and that of our Lord's disciples [...], had a single purpose—to bring the baptized to Christ [...] and prepare the way for future faith.  Homilies on St. John, 29,1.  St. Ambrose wrote that baptism of repentance was necessary to prepare the way for the grace that would be Christ's gift: Neither repentance avails without grace nor grace without repentance; for repentance must first condemn sin that grace may blot it out.   St. Ambrose of Milan, Epistle 34.

Question: Why didn't Jesus baptize?  Please read Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:5-9.

Answer:  He was preparing the disciples for the time when He would give them the Great Commission to baptize all nations in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, beginning in Jerusalem and Judea, and then in Samaria, and to the Gentile nations of the earth.  But if Jesus had also been baptizing before His crucifixion it would have caused confusion between the baptism of repentance and the baptism of re-birth into the New Covenant in Christ that was to be offered after the Resurrection.

Question: Why is it that this knowledge that Jesus' disciples were baptizing so many people should force Jesus and the disciples to withdraw from Judea to the Galilee?

Answer: This point marks the beginning of the Pharisees' hostility towards Jesus. Since it was not the time for the final confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees, the Lord withdrew to the North where the Pharisees had less influence.

He had to pass through Samaria.

Question: Why was it that Jesus had to pass through Samaria?  There were two main routes back to the Galilee: through Samaria and the other route up the East Side of the Jordan River valley.  Most Israelites avoided Samaria.  The Samaritans were extremely hostile to Jews and Israelites and the Jews and Israelites regarded the Samaritans as heathen, half-breed heretics.  Any association with a Samaritan could ritually contaminate the believer.

Answer:  Jesus had to pass through Samaria because that was God's plan.  This is the time in God's plan that the Messiah will witness to Samaria.

Question:  What was it historically that caused this hostility between the Samaritans and the Jews?  Please read 1 Kings chapter 12 concerning the schism in the Old Covenant Church and the Davidic Kingdom; 2 Kings chapter 17 on the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the origins of the Samaritans; and Ezra 4:1-24 on the hostility of the Samaritans to the rebuilding of the Temple after the return from exile.

Answer: This history of discord between Judeans and Samaritans stretched back to pre-Samaritan times in the 10th century BC when the 10 northern tribes of Israel united in a civil war against David's descendant King Rehoboam.  The 10 tribes successfully broke away to form the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  The 10 tribes elected Jeroboam, a descendant of Joseph's son Ephraim, as their king.  To prevent the influence of the Southern Kingdom of Judah through the priesthood and the Temple in Jerusalem, Jeroboam expelled all the priests and Levites. Jeroboam rejected worship of the Covenant at the Temple in Jerusalem, set up a new Temple on Mt. Gerizim in violation of the Sinai Covenant, and reintroduced golden calf worship. 

Later in the 8th century BC, God brought judgment on Israel's apostasy and the kingdom was destroyed by the Assyrians who exiled the 10 tribes of Israel and brought in 5 different groups of people from the East.  These people brought their gods, their baalim [plural of baal], with them but they also adopted the worship of Yahweh. Intermarrying with the few remaining Israelites, these people became the Samaritans.  Later after the Babylonian Exile in the 6th century BC when the Southern Kingdom of Judah was allowed to return to the land and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem, the Samaritans offered to help rebuild the Temple.  When their offer was rejected the Samaritans, in spite, sought in every way to keep the Jews from rebuilding the Temple.  Centuries of enmity left deep-seeded hatred between Jews and Samaritans.  The Samaritans only accepted the first 5 books of Moses (Genesis through Deuteronomy) into their canon.  They did not accept the Old Testament books of the histories or the prophets, or the books of wisdom. 

John 4:5-6.  On the way he came to the Samaritan town called Sychar near the land that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.  Jacob's well was there and Jesus, sat down by the well.

The word Sychar is probably the Greek corruption of the name of the ancient city of Shechem.  The Aramaic name for Shechem is Sichara, which is very similar to the name Sychar. Scholars usually identify Sychar as either the ancient city of Shechem near Mt. Gerizim or as the present day Arab village of Askar at the foot of Mt. Ebal.  Recent archaeological excavations have ruled out Askar as the site of this 1st century AD village, however.  Askar was not inhabited until the early Middle Ages.  The ancient site of Shechem, however, fits perfectly both theological and geographically in the encounter between Jesus and the people of Samaria.  The ancient site of Shechem is at the entrance to the mountain pass that is traversed by the road from Jerusalem to the North.  A city had existed at the site since the beginning of the 3rd millennium BC and Shechem is mentioned in Egyptian diplomatic correspondence that dates to the 19th'18th  centuries BC.  The city was destroyed in AD67 by the Roman Army of Vespasian and was never rebuilt.  Since the Old Testament also identifies Shechem as near the site where Jacob purchased land [Genesis 33] and since it is prominently located on the road to the Galilee in the time of Jesus, the majority of modern scholars identify Sychar as ancient Shechem.

Question:  What kind of role does Shechem play in the Salvation History of the Old Testament and how does that role impact this encounter with Christ?  For your answer please look up and note the importance of these passages: Genesis 12:7; 33:18-20; 34:1-31; Deuteronomy 27; Joshua 8:30-35, and chapter 24; Judges 8:29-9:21; 1 Kings chapter 12; Hosea 6:9; Jeremiah 41:1-10

Answer:

Genesis 12:7

Yahweh appeared to Abram and promised the land to his descendants. Abram built an altar.  This is the first of 3 promises to Abram that will become the Abrahamic Covenant.

Genesis 33:18-20

Jacob camped opposite the town upon his return from Paddan-Aram and purchased land from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem and built an altar.  The city is named for this gentile man who loved Dinah, a daughter of Israel.

Genesis 34

The site of a failed covenant, a failed marriage, and a terrible injustice when the gentiles of Shechem, who had submitted to circumcision, were murdered by the sons of Jacob/Israel.

Deuteronomy 27:4, 11-12

Site designated by Moses (between Mt. Ebal and  Mt. Gerizim) for renewal of Covenant oath.

Joshua 8:30-35

Site of the reaffirmation of the Covenant oath and the blessing of the people as ordered by Moses in Deuteronomy 27

Joshua 24

Joshua called a great assembly of all the tribes of Israel.  The reaffirmation of the Covenant before Joshua's death.

Judges 8:29-9:21

Shechem incited to follow a false king of Israel who betrays them.

1 Kings 12:1-25

Great Assembly of the 12 tribes to proclaim Rehoboam, son of Solomon, as King of Israel.  The site of the beginning of the end of Israel as a united kingdom. After the civil war the rebel Jeroboam, new King of Israel, makes Shechem his capital.

Hosea 6:7-9

Priests commit murder on the road to Shechem—broken Covenant.

Jeremiah 41:1-10

Murder of the men from Shechem and Samaria by Jews led by a descendant of David.  These men had come in peace to mourn the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem and to bring offerings.

Question: What are the re-occurring themes associated with Shechem?

Answer: Covenant, failed covenant/ failed marriage, murder/ terrible wrongs committed, betrayal and lost opportunity to witness to the Gentile people of the One True God.

Jesus, King of Israel, descendant of King David, will undo all these centuries of wrongs and abuses as He calls Samaria, Israel, back into the Covenant.  He has come to save that which was lost.  He is the bridegroom who loves this daughter of Israel.

John 4:6-7a:  Jacob's well was there and Jesus, tired by the journey, sat down by the well.  It was about the sixth hour.  When a Samaritan woman came to draw water...

.

Question: Why does John include the information that Jesus was tired?

Answer: John wants to remind us that Jesus was fully divine and fully human.  Like us He suffered from hunger and thirst and felt fatigue, but despite His tiredness Jesus, the good Shepherd, does not waste the opportunity to reach out to the lost sheep.

It was about the sixth hour.  This number may be literal or it may be symbolic.  Six is the number of man/ humanity.  Man and woman were both created on the 6th day.  Six is also the number symbolic of man in rebellion and the Northern Kingdom of Israel had been estranged from God, in violation of the Covenant of Sinai, since the 10th century BC.  But, if the time is literal, then the question is does John use Jewish or Roman time?  If it were Jewish time, the time would be 12 noon.  If the time is Roman time it could be 6AM or 6PM [see endnote], the normal times that the women of the village would come to the village well, at the beginning and at the end of the day.  Since John does not indicate that this is morning or evening I suspect the time is symbolic.  However, Shechem is 40 miles north of Jerusalem.  If you figure a healthy man can travel about 20 miles in a day and if Jesus and the disciples had started in the morning from Jerusalem, this would have been the end of the second day's journey (common people only traveled in the daylight), Jesus' disciples having gone into the village to find lodging for the night.

Those scholars who support Jewish time point out that this woman is leading a disreputable life and so would be restricted from coming to the village water source with the other women but if that is the case it does seem unusual that her testimony of Jesus as the Messiah in verses 28-30 would be so readily accepted by the people of her village.  That she may lead a sinful life by Jewish standards does not mean the Samaritan people judged such behavior in the same light.  Samaritan customs were not as strict and that was part of reason why the Jews considered the Samaritans to be an unclean, heretical people as bad as or worse than other Gentiles.  Then too, why would St. John, writing his account late in the century to a mostly Gentile Christian Church from his diocese of Ephesus, the third most important city in the Roman Empire, use Hebrew time and not Roman time?

The place of their meeting has theological significance. Although wells figure prominently in the Old Testament, this particular "well of Jacob" is not mentioned in the Old Testament.  The site of Jacob's well is located at the foot of Mt. Gerizim in the West Bank, 40 miles north of Jerusalem and 1 mile east of the modern Palestinian city of Nablus.  It has been a site of religious pilgrimage since the 4th century AD.

Question: Can you recall when a man has found a girl/woman at a well in the Old Testament?  What is the outcome of each of these encounters?  Hint: see Genesis 24:10-67; Genesis 29:1-30; and Exodus 2:15-21.  There are the only 3 places in the Old Testament where a man encounters a woman at a well with a very interesting outcome.

Answer:

Genesis 24:10-67

Rebecca the future bride of Isaac is found at a well by Abraham's servant

Genesis 29:1-30

Jacob (Israel) meets Rachel, his future bride, at a well

Exodus 2: 15-21

Moses meets Zipporah, his bride, at a well

A bride is courted at a well.  Jesus the divine bridegroom has come to court His Covenant

Bride, Israel (Samaria) as symbolized by this woman and as promised by the prophets of God [i.e. see Hosea chapter 2].  This is an example of how a series of 3 can be found in the space of a single verse, several verses, in a book of Scripture, as in this case, in more than one book when the encounter of a man and a woman at a well points from Genesis to Exodus to John's New Testament Gospel.

Question: What earlier passage prepared us for the symbolic importance of this encounter?

Answer: John the Baptist's last witness of Christ as the Bridegroom in 3:29

John 4:7-9: When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, 'Give me something to drink.'  His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.  The Samaritan woman said to him, 'You are a Jew. How is it that you ask me, a Samaritan, for something to drink?''Jews, of course, do not associate with Samaritans.

That Jesus' disciples went into town to buy food suggests that this is the end of their traveling day and that they are planning to make camp for the night.  This information would agree with a 6PM time frame.

This is a rather amusing first encounter. The woman, astonished at Jesus' willingness to speak to her, reminds Him of proper Jewish/Samaritan etiquette.

Question: Why was this woman astonished that Jesus would speak to her?  Was she even more astonished that He would ask for water from her hand?  Why didn't Jews associate with Samaritans?

Answer: To associate with a Samaritan, much less to accept food or drink from such a person, would cause a Jew to become ritually unclean [John 4:7].  Samaritans were considered to be worse than Gentiles!  It is also outside the boundaries of Jewish customs for a man to converse with women in public who are not part of their immediate family [John 4:27] much less a woman who is a recognized sinner [John 4:18].

Question: What happens when the ritually unclean come in contact with Christ?

Answer:  They are cleansed ritually and spiritually.

Question: Can you think of any other stories from the Synoptic Gospels where Samaritans figured prominently?  Why are those episodes so shocking to Jews?

Answer: Considering the depth of this breach between Samaritans and Jews you may understand the importance of Jesus' teachings about Samaritans in His parable of the "Good Samaritan" where the Samaritan is proposed as an example of love of one's neighbor [Luke 10:29-37]. The other example of Samaritan faith is found in Luke 17:16 where Jesus cured 10 lepers and only the Samaritan leper returned to thank Him.  Jesus' doctrine of love could demand no greater act of a Jew than to accept a Samaritan as a brother!

Jesus said to her, 'Give me something to drink.' Jesus made 3 statements to the man Nicodemus, each statement longer than the last.  In this case Jesus will make 7 statements to the woman of Samaria.  Both 3 and 7 are "perfect numbers" signifying fullness and perfection.  It is possible that the repetition of 3 and 7 are to link us to the double resurrection which will be the promise of the New Covenant in Christ [see the beginning of chapter 2 and the discussion of the ritual purification rites of Numbers 19:17-22].  In this encounter with the woman Jesus will make 7 statements which, along with her responses, are divided into 3 Scenes.  Scenes I is divided in 2 different parts and each part has 2 short dialogues with 3 exchanges.  In Scene II part 1 Jesus makes His seventh statement affirming His true identity and in part 2, when the disciples return, He completes His teaching.  In the third Scene the woman returns with the people of her community.  Jesus' 7 statements are in bold print.

John 4:6-157 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, 'Give me something to drink.'  8 His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.  9 The Samaritan woman said to him, 'You are a Jew.  How is it that you ask me, a Samaritan, for something to drink?''Jews, of course, do not associate with Samaritans. 10 Jesus replied to her: 'If you only knew what God is offering and who it is that is saying to you, "Give me something to drink," you would have been the one to ask, and he would have given you living water.' 11 'You have no bucket, sir,' she answered, 'and the well is deep: how do you get this living water?  12 Are you a greater man than our father Jacob, who gave us this well and drank from it himself with his sons and his cattle?'  13 Jesus replied: 'Whoever drinks this water will be thirsty again; 14 but no one who drinks the water that I shall give him will ever be thirsty again: the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water, welling up for eternal life.' 15 'Sir' said the woman, 'give me some of that water, so that I may never be thirsty or come here again to draw water.'

Scene I part 1: Introduces the topic of "living water" and Jesus' claim to be the Messiah.

John 4:10 (Jesus to the woman) "If you only knew what God is offering and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me something to drink,' you would have been the one to ask, and he would have given you living water."

Question: What is the 2-part challenge that Jesus issues to the Samaritan woman?

Answer:

  1. That she recognize who is speaking to her and
  2. That she will ask Him for "living water".

Once again John is using a word with a "double meaning". The word zoe in Greek can mean "living" as well as "flowing."  Just as in His encounter with Nicodemus, Jesus uses common words and expressions to express a deeper teaching.  Everyone knows that water is essential for physical life.  Similarity the grace of Jesus Christ is absolutely necessary for supernatural life!  It is this supernatural "water" that truly gives life. Jesus is using the ordinary and the mundane to lead to Samaritan woman away from her chore of drawing water from an ordinary well to the point where she understands that it is more than this well water she needs.  What she needs is the better more satisfying "water" that wells up to eternal life.

John 4:11-12  (Woman to Jesus): "You have no bucket, sir," she answered, "and the well is deep: how do you get this [zoe] living water?  Are you a greater man than our father Jacob, who gave us this well and drank from it himself with his sons and his cattle?"

The Greek word kyrie means both "sir" and "lord". She is addressing Jesus with increasing respect, unlike Nicodemus who becomes more skeptical in each exchange in his encounter with Jesus.

Question: What meaning of the word zoe does the woman of Samaria think Jesus' is using?

Answer: Considering that they are at a well it is natural that she is thinking of water on a materially, earthly level as "flowing" water which is a preferable source of water to stagnant well water. 

Question: What was Jesus referring to when He spoke of giving zoe "Living water" to the woman? The living water is not Jesus himself but something spiritual that he offers to the woman and to the believer who can recognize God's gift.  The living water is not eternal life but leads to it.  Hint: see verse 14.

Answer: In the 2nd -4th centuries AD Christian scholars like St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine of Hippo, and St. Jerome saw "living water" as the revelation which Jesus gives to men, or the Spirit of God which Jesus gives to men.  Since Medieval times Biblical scholars like St. Thomas Aquinas and others have seen the "living water" as a symbol for sanctifying grace.  Most modern Catholic scholars believe Jesus is speaking of the life and vitality of the Spirit of God that is God's gift to us.  All these scholars, however, would agree that this gift is given in the Sacrament of Christian Baptism. The use of the symbol of water is a very realistic way for Jesus to symbolize the importance of this gift: water is to natural life as living water is to eternal life.  He is speaking in the same sense as the prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel and Zechariah:

  1. Isaiah 12:3: Joyfully you will draw water from the springs of salvation and, that day, you will say, "Praise Yahweh"...

  2. Ezekiel 47:1-12: [Ezekiel's vision of the restored Temple and the River of Life].  He brought me back to the entrance of the Temple, where a stream flowed eastwards from under the Temple threshold...it was now a river which I could not pass......and flowing into the sea it makes the waters wholesome....Along the river bank, on either bank, will grow every kind of fruit tree with leaves that never wither and fruit the never fails....this water comes from the sanctuary...

  3. Zechariah 14:8-9:  When that Day comes, living waters will issue from Jerusalem, half towards the eastern sea, half towards the western sea; they will flow summer and winter.  Then Yahweh will become king of the whole world.  When that Day comes, Yahweh will be the one and only and his name the one name.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches in # 694:  The symbolism of water signifies the Holy Spirit's action in Baptism, since after the invocation of the Holy Spirit it becomes the efficacious sacramental sign of new birth: just as the gestation of our first birth took place in water, so the water of Baptism truly signifies that our birth into the divine life is given to us in the Holy Spirit.  As "by one Spirit we were all baptized," so we are also "made to drink of one Spirit."  Thus the Spirit is also personally the living water welling up from Christ crucified as its source and welling up in us to eternal life.  Also see Baptism in the Economy of Salvation CCC#s 1217-1222 ; Christ's Baptism 1223-1225; and Baptism in the Church #s 1226-1228.

Question: Is Baptism necessary for salvation?

Answer: Jesus affirmed that Baptism is necessary for salvation in John 3:5.  He also commanded his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptize them in Matthew 28:19-20Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament.  The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are "reborn of water and the Spirit." God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.  CCC# 1257

The last statement opens the door to the exceptions of "baptism by desire" [when someone who intended to be baptized unexpectedly dies] and "baptism by blood" [when those who suffer death for the sake of their faith in Christ receive their baptism through their martyrdom]. Included in these exceptions is the belief that Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it can be saved.  It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.  CCC# 1260; also see CCC# 1258-1260.

Question: How many times may one be baptized by the Spirit? 

Answer: The Church, from its first centuries, has always taught that just as there is one birth through the flesh, so there is but one birth through the Spirit.  St. Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:3-6: Take every care to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together.  There is one Body, one Spirit, just as one hope is the goal of your calling by God.  There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, over all, through all and within all.

Returning to John 4:12

Question: What is the irony of the woman's statement in verse 12?

Answer: This is an example of John's use of irony.  The woman is using Jacob as her authority.  Since the 5 different foreign colonists imported into the region intermarried with the remnant of Israelites who had not been deported and assumed their worship, Jacob (Israel) became in some cases a physical "father" but in all cases a spiritual "father". But she is also unconsciously and ironically stating a truth; Jesus is greater than Jacob! 

John 4:13-14 "Jesus replied: 'Whoever drinks this water will be thirsty again; but no one who drinks the water that I shall give him will ever be thirsty again: the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water, welling up for eternal life.'"

Question: In our Christian tradition how do we associate this "living water" which Jesus offers?

Answer: Christian tradition associates "living water" with the Spirit and the waters of baptism in Christ, which lead us to "eternal life".  St Paul describes Baptism in terms of drinking from the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:13: We were baptized into one body in a single Spirit, Jews as well as Greeks, slaves as well as free men, and we were all given the same Spirit to drink."

This is John's thesis: that the Living water is the Spirit.  Many Christian writers down through the centuries will expound on this theme of living water gushing forth and bring the abundant gift of salvation: i.e.  "As a fountain of living water from God...has this our Christ gushed forth." St. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho LXIX. 6

John 4:15 "'Sir', said the woman, 'give me some of that water, so that I may never be thirsty or come here again to draw water.'"

Question: What has the woman finally discerned from Jesus' challenge in verse 10 and His teaching about living water?

Answer: She has realized that He is referring to "living" and not "flowing" water and she has asked for this water as He challenged her to do when He said: "If you only knew what God is offering ...you would have been the one to ask.."

John 4:16-25: (Jesus to the woman) 16 'Go and call your husband,' said Jesus to her, 'and come back here.' 17 The woman answered, 'I have no husband.'  Jesus said to her, 'You are right to say, "I have no husband"; 18  for although you have had five, the one you now have is not your husband.  You spoke the truth there.'  19 'I see you are a prophet, sir,' said the woman.  20 'Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, though you say that Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.' 21  Jesus said: 'Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.  22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know; for salvation comes from the Jews.  23 But the hour is coming, indeed it already here, when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth: that is the kind of worshipper the Father seeks.  24 God is spirit, and those who worship must worship in spirit and truth.

Scene I part 2: Discusses the true worship of the Old Covenant.

John 4:16-19 "'Go and call your husband,' said Jesus to her, and come back here.'  The woman answered, 'I have no husband.' Jesus said to her, 'You are right to say, 'I have no husband'; for although you have had five the one you now have [he who is with you now] is not your husband.  You spoke the truth there.'" [ ] = more literal translation.

Jews were allowed only three marriages.  We do not know enough about the practices of the 1st century Samaritans but if they had the same rule then the woman's life was immoral.  It is interesting that the woman does not challenge Jesus, nor does she call Him to task for being a "Jewish busy-body."  Since earliest times Christian scholars have found a symbolism in the reference to "husbands" in this passage.  In Biblical times a legal wife in a covenantal union with a man called her husband "Lord" which is in Hebrew is the word "adon."  But a concubine, who was considered to be property, called her "husband" "lord" or "master" but used the Canaanite word for "lord/master" which was the word "baal".  Sarah could call Abraham "adon" but Hagar, the slave, could only call him "baal".  The word baal had a dual meaning.  Baal meant "lord" or "master", but "baal" also meant "god" as in the sense of pagan gods to the Hebrews.  Each of the Canaanite gods were called "baal" along with the city name or place name; for example Baal of Peor in Numbers 25:1 ff was the baal of the plains of Peor in Moab.  Also see Judges 6:28; 1 Kings 18:19ff, etc.   Christian scholars have always seen a play on words or a dual meaning with the word "husband" in the passage referring to the woman's 5 "husbands" and the baals {baalim) of the 5 pagan peoples who were the ancestors of the Samaritans.  Remember Yahweh and Christ both symbolically unite with the Church in the imagery of Bridegroom to Bride or perhaps more correctly stated, Bridegroom to the Covenant Bride!

Question: In this context, what could Jesus mean by the statement "You have had 5 husbands and he who is with you now is not your husband." 

Answer: More than commenting on the woman's life Jesus could be referring to the 5 different groups of people who became the Samaritans and who brought the worship of each of their principal baals (false gods) with them and then adopted the worship of Yahweh.  Jesus could be saying that Samaria has had 5 different false gods and the god they worship now is not their own because although they adopted the worship of Yahweh they had reinterpreted the covenant into their own idea of worship, therefore, their covenant is not legitimate. They had even rewritten passages of the Torah to reflect these changes, for example designation the place of worship not as Jerusalem but as Mt. Gerizim.

Jesus could also be saying that the woman, like the people of  Samaria, has had 5 different "Lords" / gods/ baals, and "he," meaning Himself, "who is with you now" (Jesus is literally with her now) is not your own, He is God but He is not their God.  Considering the use of double meaning words in the fourth Gospel, St. John could also be using all these symbolic meanings. (Note 2 Kings chapter 17:30-31 actually lists 7 different gods but Josephus writing in the 1st Century records the ancestors of the Samaritans brought in 5 principal baalim (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews Book 9,14.3).

This connection between Jesus' message to the woman of Samaria, the husband-baal references and Samaria/Israel's relationship to Yahweh is prophesied in the book of Hosea.  God has given Hosea the prophecy of the day when Israel would again become the bride of Yahweh.  Please read Hosea 2: 18-19 (in some translations this passage is vss.16-17) 'When that day comes' declares Yahweh 'you will call me, "My husband", no more will you call me, "My Baal".  I shall banish the names of the Baals from her lips and their name will be mentioned no more.'  Jesus' witness to this woman is an amazing fulfillment of this prophecy written after the destruction of Israel in the 8th century BC.

John 4:19-20 "'I see you are a prophet, sir', said the woman.  'Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, though you say that Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.'"

The woman obviously realizes that Jesus is speaking about more than just her own life.  She acknowledges him as a prophet.  The early Church father, Origin, writing in the 2nd century AD, notes that the Samaritans held as canonical only the five books of Moses.  They did not have the Histories or the Books of the Prophets in their Bible.  Since the Samaritans only accepted the Pentateuch as their canon of inspired Scripture, Moses was their only prophet and for them there had been no other prophet. 

Question: What Biblical passage is the woman referring to when she suggests that Jesus is a prophet?

Answer: The only passage the Samaritans have in their Bible about a future prophet coming to the people is in Deuteronomy 18:17"From among their own brothers I shall raise up a prophet like yourself."  The Samaritans only expected the Messiah to come as a prophet, unlike the Jews and Israelites who had the whole canon of Scripture and expected the Messiah to come as prophet, priest, and king.  This is an example of how imperfect Sacred Scripture translations can hinder or distort divine revelation.

Perceiving that Jesus might be the promised prophet, she tests Him by asking him a question about worship.

Question: What does she ask Jesus, seeking some assurance that her people are not in error, and what is Jesus' firm response.

Answer: She mentions the difference between Samaritans and the Jews as to the center of the worship of Yahweh.  Jesus affirms that the Jews have the authority by the statement: "Salvation is from the Jews."  In the Old Covenant Church as in the New there can only be one center and one hierarchy of authority.  This is why in Matthew 23:2 Jesus tells the crowds: The scribes and the Pharisees occupy the chair of Moses.  You must therefore do and observe what they tell you..."

 

Question: In the New Covenant Church is there a central authority similar to the "chair of Moses?"
Answer: There is the "chair of St. Peter" where the authority of the Universal Church of Jesus Christ rests and the site of that authority is in Rome from which Christ's Church spreads out across the earth.  It is in fact the only Christian Church with a central authority and hierarchy.

The woman is now "looking to the light".  Even though she diverts the "rays of the light" away from her own life to something less personal, in opening the topic of worship she is beginning to think on a spiritual rather than a material level.  Unlike Nicodemus she will seem to more readily accept Jesus' teaching once she has understood His meaning.

John 4:21-24 "Jesus said: 'Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.  Your worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know; for salvation comes from the Jews.  But the hour is coming, indeed is already here, when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth: that is the kind of worshipper the Father seeks.  God is spirit, and those who worship must worship in spirit and truth.

God established the center of worship for the Church at His Temple in Jerusalem ( 1Kings 7-8).  When the 10 Northern tribes of Israel broke away to form a divided kingdom they established worship in a Temple on Mt. Gerizim, forming two centers of worship of Yahweh.  Jesus confirms that there is One Church established by God in a holy Covenant, and salvation is through that One Church.  That One Church had one geographic center and one man as mediator between men and God.  That center was Jerusalem and the High Priest in Jerusalem who sat on the chair of Moses was the mediator between God and man.  But the Old Covenant Church was founded upon the physical rock of Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem and through physical descent to the children of Israel.  In the New Covenant, Jesus explains, true worship can come only from men and women who are begotten by the "Spirit of Truth".  In the New Covenant Church there will be one geographic center and one man as mediator, the man who sits on the chair of Peter, but Peter, the Rock, will be our spiritual Father and we will be "begotten" from God's Spirit and become inheritors of the Covenant through a spiritual birth.  Only through the Spirit does God the Father "beget" true sons and daughters.

"God is Spirit": this is not an essential definition of God but is a description of God's dealing with men; it means that God is Spirit toward men because He gives the Spirit which "begets" them in spiritual birth through baptism.  This expression is used in the same way John uses the words "God is light" (1John 1:5) and "God is love" (1John 4:8).

In Scene II, John 4:25-38: Jesus reveals His identity as the Messiah and teaches His disciples:

John 4:25-: 25 The woman said to him, 'I know that Messiah–that is, Christ–is coming; and when he comes he will explain everything.'  26 Jesus said, 'That is who I am, I who speak to you.'  27 At this point the disciples returned and were surprised to find him speaking to a woman, though none of them asked, 'What do you want form her?' or, 'What are you talking to her about?'  28 The woman put down her water jar and hurried back to the town to tell the people, 29 'Come and see a man who has told me everything I have done; could this be the Christ?'  30 This brought people out of the town and they made their way towards him.

In this passage from Scene II Jesus reveals His identity as the Messiah:

John 4:25-26 "The woman said to him, 'I know that Messiah'that is, Christ'is coming; and when he comes he will explain everything.'  Jesus said, 'That is who I am, I who speak to you.'"

This is Jesus' 7th statement to the woman of Samaria.

Question: What is the significance of the words Jesus uses to reveal Himself as the Messiah to this woman who lives in the land of the old kingdom of Israel?

Answer: His words "I am" recalls God's revelation to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3:14: "This is what you are to say to the Israelites, 'I AM has sent me to you.'"

The Samaritans did not expect the Messiah in the sense of an anointed king of the house of David (they did not have those books in their Bible).  They expected a Taheb ( Ta'eb = Hebrew = "the one who returns"), in the form of the Prophet-like-Moses, the teacher/Law-giver.  This belief was the fifth article in the Samaritan creed. Their belief in this prophet-Messiah came from God's promise to Moses in Deuteronomy 18:17-19 "From their own brothers I shall raise up a prophet like yourself; I shall put my words into his mouth and he will tell them everything I command him." The Samaritan woman is referring directly to this passage. 

Question: With Jesus last statement what has happened to the woman?

Answer: The woman has come into the "light".  She finally recognizes who has offered her this living water and Jesus affirms her declaration that He is the Messiah.  The last part of the challenge that Jesus made the woman in verse 10 has now been completed.

It is interesting that Jesus did not acknowledge Himself as the Messiah when it was offered to Him by the Jews but now accepts it from a Samaritan.  Perhaps their belief in a "prophet like Moses" instead of a Davidic King Messiah was less likely to threaten the continuation of His ministry until the appointed time.

John 4:27-30 At this point his disciples returned and were surprised to find him speaking to a woman, though none of them asked, 'What do you want from her?'  or, 'What are you talking to her about?' The woman put down her water jar and hurried back to the town to tell the people, 'Come and see a man who has told me everything I have done; could this be the Christ?'  This brought people out of the town and they made their way towards him.

By this time the disciples have already learned not to question Jesus when He breaks with custom or tradition but John wants us to understand that this was unusual behavior for a religious Jew. 

Question: Why do you think John includes the detail that the woman left her water jar?

Answer: She has recognized that the spiritual water Jesus promises is much more valuable than the material, natural water she was going to collect in her earthen vessel.

St. Augustine in his commentary on this passage suggests that the water jar is the fallen desire of man that draws pleasure from the dark wells of the world but is never satisfied for long.  He compares that desire, symbolized by the water jar that does not satisfy, to conversion to Christ which moves us to renounce the world, leave behind the desires of our earthen vessels, and to follow a new way of life. (St. Augustine, Homilies on St. John, 15, 16, 30).

Question:  Has this woman come fully "into the Light"?

Answer: Perhaps, at least she has come farther than Nicodemus, but she still hesitates in her announcement to the people by asking the question: "Could this be the Christ?" instead of Philip's declaration to Nathanael (John 1:45) or Andrew's revelation to Simon Peter: "We have found the Messiah!" (John 1:41).

Scene II, part 2: Jesus' dialogue with the disciples:

John 4:31-38 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, 'Rabbi, do have something to eat'; but he said, 'I have food to eat that you do not know about.'  So the disciples said to one another, 'Has someone brought him food?'  But Jesus said: 'My food is to do the will of the one who sent me, and to complete his work.  Do you not have a saying: Four months and then the harvest?  Well, I tell you, look around you, look at the fields; already they are white, ready for harvest!  Already the reaper is being paid his wages, already he is bringing in the grain for eternal life, so that sower and reaper can rejoice together.  For here the proverb holds true: one sows, another reaps; I sent you to reap a harvest you have not labored for. Others have labored for it; and you have come into the rewards of their labor.'"

Jesus may have been showing the signs of weakness from lack of food.  He is fully human and feels all the human physical effects of lack of food and sleep. 

My food is to do the will of the one who sent me, and to complete his work.  

Question: What "food" is Jesus talking about?

Answer: The will of the Father is always the driving force behind Jesus' mission.  Both the Synoptic Gospels and St. Paul in his epistles teach that Jesus was sent by the Father to do His will but St. John stresses this teaching to the point of insistence!

John's testimony of Jesus' divine mission:

Jesus was sent by the Father

3:17; 5:24, 36-38; 7:16; 8:26-28; 12:49-50; 14:24; 17:8, 14

His origin is in the Father

3:31; 6:46; 7:29; 8:42

He comes down from the Father

3:13; 6:38, 42

He speaks the words of the Father

3:34; 7:16; 8:26-28; 12:49-50; 14:24; 17:8, 14

He does the will of the Father

9:4; 10:32, 37; 14:10

 

Look at the fields; already they are white, ready for harvest!  Jesus is literally looking out at the fields around Samaria.  He is speaking both literally and figuratively.  This helps us determine the time of year.  Jesus and His disciples were in Jerusalem for the Passover/Feast of Unleavened Bread in late March/early April.  That is the time of year that the barley is harvested.  It is the "firstfuits" offered at the Feast of Firstfruits during the week long celebration of Passover/ Unleavened Bread. The wheat harvest is 50 days later at the Feast of Weeks which was known by the Greek word "Pentecost" (fiftieth day) in Jesus' time.  If Jesus and His disciples left Jerusalem immediately after the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the barley is still being harvested from the fields.  If they stayed in Jerusalem until the Feast of Pentecost (one of the 3 Pilgrim feasts which every man of the Covenant must attend) then this is the wheat harvest.

Question: But what is it that Jesus is telling the disciples is ripe for being harvested?

Answer: The Samaritan people.  The Samaritans who are coming to Christ are His first harvest of souls for God's storehouse; Jesus' "firstfruits".

Question: Who are the reapers and who are the sowers?

Answer: The reapers are the disciples and the sowers are those who have labored before them, the prophets of the Old Testament and Jesus Himself. St. John tells us in 3:12 that Jesus teaches that "faith" consists in recognizing Him as the envoy of the Father (also see 7:28-29; 17:21, 25; 19:9b). Jesus will tell the Apostles that He will send them as envoys of the Father (the word apostle means envoy in Greek) into the harvest of the world: John 13:30; 17:18; 20:21; also see Acts 1:26; 22:21; Romans 1:1.

Scene III: The Samaritans come to believe in the Messiah

John 4:39-42: Many Samaritans of that town believed in him on the strength of the woman's words of testimony, 'He told me everything that I have done.'  So, when the Samaritans came up to him, they begged him to stay with them.  He stayed for two days, and they said to the woman, 'Now we believe no longer because of what you told us; we have heard him ourselves and we know that he is indeed the Savior of the world.'

If this encounter with the woman occurred at 6PM it would have been the end of one day and the beginning of the next day when the revelation of the Messiah came to these people...a very symbolic gesture for these people (the day began at sundown).  It was the end of their rejection and a new beginning in their relationship with Yahweh.  It is significant that they no longer only believed on the basis of the woman's testimony but believed for themselves.  The two-day visit could be symbolic of the humanity and divinity of the Messiah.

"the Savior of the world" The Samaritans are the first to recognize that the salvation Jesus is offering is for all the nations of the world! 1 John 2:2 Jesus Christ, the upright.  He is the sacrifice to expiate our sins, and not only ours, but also those of the whole world.

 

It is interesting to look at the comparisons between Jesus' witness to Nicodemus in chapter 3 and the Samaritan woman in chapter 4 as a comparison of two people who are also representatives of the histories of their people: The covenant people of Judah and the apostate people of what was the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  Jesus' witness to these two is the beginning of the prophecy of Ezekiel 37:15-28 "The word of Yahweh was addressed to me as follows, 'Son of man, take a stick and write on it, 'Judah and those Israelites loyal to him.'  Take another stick and write on it, 'Joseph (Ephraim's wood) and all the House of Israel loyal to him.' 'Join one to the other to make a single piece of wood, a single stick in your hand.  And when the members of your nation say, 'Will you not tell us what you mean?' say, 'The Lord Yahweh says this: I am taking the stick of Joseph (now in Ephraim's hand) and those tribes of Israel loyal to him and shall join them to the stick of Judah.  I shall make one stick out of the two, a single stick in my hand.' ...I shall make them into one nation in the country, on the mountains of Israel, and one king is to be king of them all; they will no longer form two nations, nor be two separate kingdoms....  I shall be their God and they will be my people. And the nations will know that I am Yahweh the sanctifier of Israel, when my sanctuary is with them for ever.'"

                                                 

John chapter 3: The Man Nicodemus

John chapter 4: The Samaritan Woman

From the land of Judah (tribes of Judah & Benjamin)

From the land of Israel (the land of the 10 tribes)

Citizen of Jerusalem the city of the true faith of the Covenant

Citizen of Shechem, a city connected to the Covenant but also with violence and betrayal, and false worship

Pharisee, educated, elite Jewish male

Mixed breed, idolatrous female

Knows the Law and the Prophets

Knows only the first 5 Books, the Torah

Representative of the Old Covenant people

Representative of a people no longer in Covenant with God.

Cannot recognize the Messiah

Acknowledging her sins, she receives the gift of faith and recognizes the Messiah

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2000 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

St. John uses marital imagery in chapters 2, 3, and 4 to present Jesus Christ as the Bridegroom of the New Covenant Church.  That Jacob's well is the location of His encounter with the Samaritan woman is to remind the reader that in the Old Testament a well was the place where a bride is courted, as when Jacob first saw his beloved Rachel.  In Chapter 4, through the Samaritan woman Jesus, the Bridegroom is speaking to His beloved, Israel, and calling her back into a Covenant relationship.

The Presentation of the Son of God in Galilee

Please read John 4:43-54 

John 4:43-45 "When the two days were over Jesus left for Galilee.  He himself had declared that a prophet is not honored in his own hometown.  On his arrival the Galileans received him well, having seen all that he had done at Jerusalem during the festival which they too had attended."

 Jesus and the disciples continue on their journey back to the Galilee (4:2).  You may have noticed that John gives many geographic references in his Gospel.  Geography plays a symbolic role in John's Gospel.  The northern regions of the Galilee and Samaria accept Jesus in faith but the southern region of Judea and Jerusalem become increasingly antagonistic toward Him as His ministry continues.  It is because of this that John will classify the enemies of Christ as "the Jews", those of Judea who are the unbelieving leaders of Judea and Jerusalem.

The saying John quotes Jesus as repeating is also mentioned in Luke's Gospel when Jesus is rejected by his hometown of Nazareth in Matthew 13:57 and Luke 4:24.  John is probably not referring to His rejection in Nazareth but is commenting on the irony that although Jesus is a Jew (from the tribe and nation of Judah) He is rejected by kinsmen from his own country of Judea but welcomed in the Galilee.

Question:  How is it that the people knew about His miracles during the feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread?

Answer: Unleavened Bread was a "Pilgrim Feast" and so all religious Israelites of the Galilee had been in Jerusalem (see Exodus 23:14-17; 34:18-23; Deuteronomy 16:16-17) to keep the feast.  The other two "pilgrim feasts" were Pentecost and Tabernacles.  See the chart on the Seven Sacred Feasts of the Old Covenant.

John 4:46-47 "He went again to Cana in Galilee, where he had changed the water into wine.  And there was a court official whose son was ill at Caperanum; hearing that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went as asked him to come and cure his son, as he was at the point of death."

Question: If Jesus left Samaria after two days (verse 46) what day is it that He comes again to Cana and what link is there to the first mention of Cana in chapter 2?

Answer: Once again it is the third day!  This 3rd day reconnects us to the first sign at Cana when the water was turned into wine. 

Question: Is it a coincidence that both Cana miracles take place on the third day? What are the similarities between this incident in chapter 4 and what happened in chapter 2

Answer: both Mary (chapter 2) and the royal official (chapter 4) are petitioners and both have faith that Jesus can fulfill their request.  In this passage John reminds us of the miracle of the "best wine" at Cana.  This wine announces the "hour" of Jesus' glorification and manifests the fulfillment of the wedding feast in the Father's kingdom where we will drink the new wine that has become the Blood of Christ. (see CCC# 1333-1335)

The village of Caperanum was more than 15 miles from Cana.  In the Synoptic Gospels this village is the center of the activity of Jesus' ministry in Galilee and Matthew states in 4:13 and 9:1 that Jesus established His own home there in Peter's house.

Question: Do you see any symbolism in the fact the Jesus made Peter's house His headquarters, the center of His ministry?  Is Peter's house still His headquarters?

Answer: Jesus founded a "house" for Peter and He still resides in that "house" which is the universal, Catholic Church.  Peter's house is the Vatican in Rome.  The high altar is built over Peter's tomb.

  The official from the town may be a Roman officer assigned by the Romans to serve Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great and the ruler of Galilee.  If this is the same royal official of Matthew 8:5 and Luke 7:2 he built the Jewish Synagogue at Caperanum.  In those passages he is identified as a Roman centurion.  That he makes no mention of Jesus being the Messiah or the prophet like the woman of Samaria or a man from God like Nicodemus may be an indication that this man is a Gentile.  The concept of messiah of the promised prophet would not be in the pagan Gentile tradition. 

John 4:48-54 "Jesus said to him, 'Unless you see signs and portents you will not believe!'  'Sir,' answered the official, 'come down before my child dies.'  'Go home,' said Jesus, 'your son will live.'  The man believed what Jesus had said and went on his way home; and while he was still on the way his servants met him with the news that his boy was alive.  He asked them when the boy had begun to recover.  They replied, 'The fever left him yesterday at the seventh hour.'  The father realized that this was exactly the time when Jesus had said, 'Your son will live', and he and all his household believed.  This new sign, the second, Jesus performed on his return from Judea to Galilee."

This is similar to the statement that Jesus made in Matthew 12:38 "Then some of the scribes and Pharisees spoke up.  'Master,' they said, 'we should like to see a sign from you.'  He replied,

It is an evil and unfaithful generation that asks for a sign!  The only sign it will be given is the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah remained in the belly of the sea-monster for three days and three nights, so will the Son of man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.'"  The Pharisees were asking for a miracle that would prove Jesus had authority and show what sort of authority it was but Jesus tells them no other sign will be given to show His authority but the decisive one which is the resurrection.

Despite the numerous "signs" we are told that Jesus performed in Jerusalem (see 2:23), John singles this out as the second of the 7 public "signs" Jesus will perform in John's Gospel.  As with all the "signs" John will identify, it points beyond this supernatural event to a future revelation of God.  The first sign of the "best wine" points to the blood will flow from the side of Christ at the crucifixion, the abundant flow of God's grace and the most holy Eucharist to the world. 

Question:  What future event does this "sign" point to?

Answer: Jesus resurrection from the dead.

Notice that the royal official shows the same genuine respect for Jesus as the Samaritan woman in addressing Jesus as kyrios, lord [translated here as 'sir'].

Question: What challenge of faith does Jesus make to the official?

Answer: To believe without visible proof; to believe by faith!  Actually He is probably also addressing the people of Galilee who have come to see Him perform the miracles they heard He had performed in Cana and Jerusalem.  They seem to be more inclined to watch him perform miracles that to listen to His teaching.  Jesus is asking the people and the royal official to make a commitment of faith, which can be supported by the miracles that can bolster their faith.

Question: Does Jesus give us the same challenge? 

Answer: Yes.

Jesus' reply does not deter the official in his mission. Despite his imperfect faith and his superior position in society he did travel the 20 miles to find Jesus, and his love for his child is so great that he is not too proud to beg this Jewish rabbi for help! 

Question: His faith, persistence, and humility are rewarded by what promise?

Answer: His child will be healed.

The Fathers of the Church compare this miracle healing of the royal official's son with the healing of the centurion's servant in Matthew 8:5ff and Luke 7:2ff.  Beginning with St. Irenaeus in the 2nd century AD [Against Heresies II.22.3] many ancient and modern scholars have suggested that John's account of the royal official's son is the same event that is recounted in Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10.  The major difference in the stories is that the official in Matthew and Luke is a centurion and that the concern is for a servant and not a son. However, in ancient times a son, or daughter, who was a minor (under the father's care) was considered to be like a servant. It would not be unusual for a father in the first century to refer to a young child as his "servant." As example of this cultural tradition is found in Galatians 4:1 where St. Paul writes: What I am saying is this: an heir, during the time while he is still under age, is no different from a slave [servant]....   

The details in all three accounts are quite similar; however there are also a few differences.

                                               

St. John's account

Matthew's account

Luke's account

Jesus is in Cana

Jesus went to Caperanum

Jesus went into Caperanum

Court official from Caperanum comes to Jesus

A centurion comes to Jesus

Centurion sent Jewish elders to speak to Jesus

Requests Jesus to heal his son who has a fever

Servant paralyzed at home

Request is to heal a favorite servant who is sick and near death

Jesus challenges the crowd to have faith without the proof of signs

Jesus offers to come to his home

Centurion is credited with building the synagogue

For a second time the royal official pleads with Jesus

Centurion humbly submits that he is unworthy to have Jesus in his home but has confidence that Jesus can heal his servant from a distance

Centurion comes to Jesus himself

Jesus sends the father home with the promise that the boy will be healed

Jesus commends his faith and pronounces that his request is granted

Humbly offers that he is not worthy to have Jesus in his home

The father believes and returns home

The man returns home

vs. 8 "Let my boy be healed by your giving your word" (perhaps an indication that the "servant" was a young son)

He is told the boy was healed at the hour he was with Jesus

The servant is cured before the man arrives

Jesus commends his faith

The boy is healed

The major differences are the identification of the son as a servant [which can be explained], Jesus' location at the time of the encounter, and the humble declaration of the Centurion that he is unworthy to have Jesus in his home that is missing from John's account.  Since he had built the Synagogue at Caperanum it is possible that the centurion in Luke's account was a Jewish convert but it is more likely that he is what Jews called a "God-fearer", a gentile who believed in Yahweh and followed His laws as much as they were able but who had not submitted to circumcision.  In that case, he would have understood that for Jesus to enter his Gentile home would have made Jesus ritually unclean according to the Law of Moses. 

St. John Chrysostom is not convinced these accounts are of the same individual: "Some indeed think that this is the man mentioned by Matthew, but he is shown to be a different person, not only from his dignity, but also from his faith.  That other, even when Christ was willing to go to him, entreats Him to tarry; this one, when He had made no such offer, draws Him to his house.  The one said, 'I am not worthy that You should come under my roof'; but the other even urges Him, saying 'Come down ere my son die.'  In that instance He came down from the mountain, and entered into Caperanum; but here, as He came from Samaria, and went not into Caperanum but into Cana, this person met Him.  The servant of the other was possessed by the palsy, this one's son by a fever." [Homilies on the Gospel of St. John, 35]

 

While the accounts in Matthew and Luke are the same, it is difficult to say if John's Gospel offers the same event.  In any case, each of these men exhibited remarkable faith and their faith was rewarded.  St. John Chrysostom's comments about the father in John's account can apply to the Roman centurion as well.  St. John wrote: "Here was a robust faith; therefore, Jesus made him the promise, so that we might learn from this man's devotion; his faith was as yet imperfect, and he did not clearly realize that Jesus could effect the cure at a distance; thus, the Lord, by not agreeing to go down to the man's house, wished us to learn the need to have faith." [Homilies on the Gospel of St. John, 35].

"the seventh hour"  This number is probably symbolic, 7 being the number of fullness and perfection especially spiritual perfection.  If it is also a literal number it would be 7AM or 7PM Roman time or 1PM Jewish time.  The significance of the 7th hour is that it connects this event with the 3rd "sign" in chapter 5.  What makes this significant will be a question for the next lesson!

Question: In addition to the child's salvation, which is Jesus' second "sign", what other work of salvation is there in this family?

Answer: The miracle is so convincing that all this man's family becomes believers in Christ.  This is, of course, should be the goal of all Christian parents. 

Question: To what does this "sign" point"?

Answer: This "sign" points to God's gift of salvation that will be offered all believers who accept Jesus as the Savoir, Jew as well as Gentile.

Question: If the royal official is the Gentile centurion as St. Irenaeus and other Church Fathers believed, and as modern scholars like Fr. Raymond Brown and Dr. Scott Hahn believe, there is an interesting connection.  Looking back over these three encounters beginning with Nicodemus in Jerusalem capital of Judea, and then with the woman in Samaria, and finally with the Gentile royal official in the Galilee can you see a foreshadowing of the spread of the Gospel?  Hint: see Acts 1:8.

Answer: At the ascension Jesus commands the Apostles and disciples to carry the Gospel message first to Jerusalem and Judea, next to Samaria, and finally to the Gentile nations of the world.  In these three encounters Jesus has taken His message to a Jew of Jerusalem in Judea, to a woman of Samaria and (if the royal official is the Roman centurion) to a Gentile who represents the nations of the world.

In conclusion:

In His encounter with the woman of Samaria Jesus literally offers the woman "spiritual water".  But when Jesus offered "water" to this woman He also wanted her, and his disciples, to think of the multiple symbols that are connected with water in Sacred Scripture.  He expected them to think of water as refreshment and as a symbol of salvation in the sense that water is to natural life what eternal water is to spiritual life and to connect that image to other Biblical references to water.  St. John also expects us to look deeper into this story of "living water" and Biblical symbolism associated with "water".  Of course, in the most general sense we think of water as it is associated with the Spiritual but there is much more Biblical symbolism associated with "water imagery.  " 

Question: What are some of the Biblical associations that might have occurred to the woman?

Answer:

  1. The water that covered the face of the earth at creation out of which God formed all life (Genesis 1)
  2. The living water of Eden that divided into 4 rivers that flowed out to water the earth (Genesis 2).
  3. The judgment of the Great Flood upon the earth and the salvation of Noah and his family by the same waters (Genesis 6-9).
  4. God's revelations to Hagar by a fountain (Genesis 16) and later by a well (Genesis 21).
  5. The well called Rehoboth ["wide places"] in the Negeb desert where God renewed the Abrahamic Covenant with Isaac (Genesis 26:22).
  6. The Nile River that saved the baby Moses from death (Exodus 2) and later became his first sign that he was God's prophet (Exodus 7).
  7. The redemptive crossing of the Red Sea where the Children of Israel were saved from destruction and purified by a baptized to prepare them to receive the Covenant at Sinai (Exodus 17; 1Corinthians 10:1-5).
  8. The water that flowed from the Rock that was struck by Moses giving life to the people (Exodus 14; Numbers 20:7-11; 1Corinthians 10:1-5).
  9. The ritual purifications with water in the Old Covenant Law which signified the removal of pollution, sickness and death (Numbers chapter 19), as well as the bestowal of the Spirit of God upon the priests of the Covenant (Leviticus 14; Numbers 8).
  10. The redemption of Israel crossing the Jordan River into the Promised Land (Joshua 3).

Jesus' disciples would have also thought of the water imagery of:

  1. The sound of "many waters" made by the Glory Cloud (Ezekiel chapter 1); and the multiple other references to "many waters" symbolizing God's abundance of grace.
  2. Ezekiel's vision of The River of Life flowing from the Temple and healing the Dead Sea (Ezekiel 47) with "trees of life" growing on its banks.

Water should have reminded them, and should remind us, of God's saving acts and revelations throughout Salvation History.  These images increase throughout the Bible until we reach the book of Revelation where the symbolism of Biblical "water" imagery all comes together in John's vision of the Living Water of Eternal Life flowing out from the heavenly Jerusalem bringing salvation to a New Creation.  It is a vision of what Jesus will promise in John chapter 7...a return to the Eden imagery of the first River of Life when man enjoyed perfect communion with God the Father.  It is a promise He kept when "living water" of the Spirit flowed from His side at the Crucifixion. Christ's "Living Water" has flown out to nourish and restore the whole earth through the sacrament of Baptism.  The cross is the true "Tree of Life" of which the tree in Eden was only a symbol.  It is because of Christ's sacrifice on the cross that the water of eternal life, the best wine of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, is offered to us at every Mass, when men and women come to communion with the Triune God.

Endnote:

Concerning Roman time:

Evening for the Jews was the end of the day which was from 3PM to sundown.  The next day began at sundown when the night watches began.  There were 12 night hours which were divided into 3 night watches before the Roman occupation of Judea.  In the 1st century AD the Roman 4 night watches had been adopted dividing the night from sundown to 9PM as the first Watch, 9PM to 12 midnight as the 2nd Watch, 12 midnight to 3AM for the 3rd Watch, and 3AM to sunrise as the 4th and last Watch.  The 12 daylight hours [John 11:9, "Are there not twelve hours in the day?"] were divided according to the ritual of the Tamid sacrifice with the 1st hour beginning at dawn [approximately 6AM] and the 12th hour corresponding approximately to our 6PM. 

 

Commenting on the different ways in which cultures reckoned time the Roman admiral and natural historian Pliny the Elder wrote: "The Babylonians count the period between two sunrises, the Athenians that between two sunsets, the Umbrians from midday to midday, the common people everywhere from dawn to dark, the Roman priests and the authorities who fixed the official day, and also the Egyptians and Hipparchus, the period from midnight to midnight." Pliny, Natural History 2.79.188.  You will notice from Pliny's account that today we keep Roman time, reckoning our day from midnight to midnight.  The Gospel of John appears to be reckoned from Roman time in which the first 12 hours extend from midnight to noon and the second 12 hours from noon to midnight.  In John 1:39 two disciples of John the Baptist spent the entire day with Jesus beginning at the 10th hour.  The 10th hour Jewish time would have been 4PM.  With the Jewish day ending at approximately 6PM [with seasonal winter hours] it would have been a short day but if it was Roman time, the 10th hour would have been 10AM and they could have indeed spent the major part of the day in Jesus' company.

Resources used in this chapter:

  1. The Catechism of the Catholic Church
  2. Paradise Restored, David Chilton (Dominion Press, Tyler, Texas, 1994).
  3. Homilies on St. John,  St. John Chrysostom
  4. Dictionary of the Bible, John L. McKenzie (Macmillian, 1965).
  5. The Anchor Bible - St. John, Fr. Raymond Brown
  6. Navarre Bible Commentary
  7. St. Ignatius Bible Commentary- St. John
  8. Homilies on St. John, St. Augustine
  9. Ante-Nicene Fathers: The works of Justin Martyr and Origin.
  10. St. Athanasius: On the Incarnation. Translated and edited by Sister Penelope Lawson. (New York: Macmillian Publishing, 1946).

 

Catechism references for chapter 4 [*= verse paraphrased in the CCC reference]

4:6-7

544*

4:22

528*, 586*

4:10-14

694*, 1137*

4:23-24

586*, 728*

4: 10

728*, 2560, 2561

4:24

1179

4: 14

728*, 1999*, 2557*, 2652, 586

4:25-26

439*

4: 21

586

4:34

606, 2611*, 2824*

 

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 1998 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.