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Text Study for the Third Sunday in Lent

The Rev. Joseph Winston


March 27, 2011

Commentary
The people are thirsty and know that death comes soon to those without water.
They express this discontent to the leadership and this escalates into a fight where
Moses feels threatened. Moses takes the issue to God who tells Moses to strike a
rock. Water flows and the people are contented once again.

Exodus 17:1-7
Exodus 17:1 journeyed by stages – The land cannot bear this number of people
and livestock, so they move in smaller groups.

Exodus 17:2 The people quarrelled with Moses – The concern about water was
enough so that Moses felt that his life was in danger.

Exodus 17:3 to kill us – The attitude is that Moses wants everyone to die.

Exodus 17:4 They are almost ready to stone me – While the people was willing
to find a scapegoat, they are not able to act on their own and leave.

Exodus 17:5 take some of the elders of Israel with you – Only a small subset of
the people saw what actually happened.

Exodus 17:6 I will be standing there in front of you on the rock – God might not
be visible to the naked eye, but that does not mean that God is not with you.

Exodus 17:7 Is the L ORD among us or not? – The unspoken answer is that God
is present.

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Psalm 95
This psalm reflects the author’s joy that he feels in the worship of the L ORD. It
also describes the posture of prayer in the L ORD’s house. The second half of the
psalm exhorts the congregation to trust in the L ORD. Here the narrator changes
from the one calling to people to worship to the L ORD’s voice.

Psalm 95:1 let us sing to the L ORD – Worship includes the assembly lifting up
its collective voice to God.

Psalm 95:2 come into his presence with thanksgiving – The music offers praise
to God.

Psalm 95:3 a great King above all gods – While there might be others who rule,
this One is different.

Psalm 95:4 In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains
are his also. – Nothing is outside of His rule. He is where no one else is and
also where the other gods live.

Psalm 95:5 The sea is his, for he made it, and the dry land, which his hands have
formed. – He is where the daemons dwell and where the humans reside.

Psalm 95:6 worship and bow down – Worship includes reverence because it ac-
knowledges that without God we are no thing.

Psalm 95:7 we are the people of his pasture – God provides a place to live.

Psalm 95:8 Do not harden your hearts – But there are some who refuse to ac-
knowledge in their minds what the L ORD does.

Psalm 95:9 put me to the proof – Now the speaker is the L ORD and He does not
want to be placed in a situation where He is forced to act.

Psalm 95:10 They are a people whose hearts go astray – Rather than realizing
who saved them, the people find other things which interest them.

Psalm 95:11 in my anger I swore – The L ORD acknowledges that passion in-
fluences His behavior. An identical example is found in John 3:16. God’s
passion for the cosmos, motivated Him to send His only Son.

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Romans 5:1-11
Paul begins this section by describing the benefits of faith. He then attempts to
explain the reason for pain in this world. He ends this part by reminding the reader
of God’s blessings.
Romans 5:1 peace with God – The cessation of the strife between a person and
God brings a wholeness that earlier was missing.
Romans 5:2 obtained access to this grace – Paul does not explain how this grace
continues past the initial investment Christ makes on a believer’s behalf.
Romans 5:3 but we also boast in our sufferings – The reality of the cross means
that it must be directly addressed. One what to do that is by seeing a re-
flection of what happened to Jesus in the life of a believer. Paul takes this
approach and turns what normally would amount to shame into honor.
Romans 5:4 endurance produces character – Paul wants to end this list with an
attribute that is widely respected.
Romans 5:5 hope does not disappoint us – This is rather a Pollyannaish view of
the final outcome of trust.
Romans 5:6 God’s love has been poured into our hearts – If Paul is speaking
from a Jewish point of view, this affection is found in the intellectual un-
derstanding that peace is now a reality. If Paul is using Greek anthropology,
then he is speaking of an emotional response.
Romans 5:7 rarely will anyone die for a righteous person – This fact is obtained
through observation.
Romans 5:8 proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died
for us – The scandal is that the ruler of the universe helped the inhabitants
of the kingdom by giving everything up, including existence itself.x
Romans 5:9 justified by his blood – Paul identifies the way that the believer’s
account is balanced.
Romans 5:10 while we were enemies – The state of humanity is wretched but
that does not deter God’s plans.
Romans 5:11 we have now received reconciliation – The offenses have been
removed from the official record.

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John 4:5-42
One of the great traditions that Texans continue to celebrate is the ranching indus-
try. Not only do we have stories and songs about cowboys who work on the range
but we also keep alive the work of the ranchers, cowboys, and ranch hands. One
of the best examples of how we do this is the live stock show and rodeo. Children
and adults, amateurs and professionals raise livestock of all types and bring them
to the show.
Before these animals enter into the ring to be judged, they must be fed and
watered, exercised and cared for. This never is an easy task because animals have
a mind of their own. (I am sure that many of you have stories that prove this point.)
They might not like the food they are brought and refuse to eat. They may grow
bored and fill the water tank with dirt. They also could be like some of us and
not want to go out for their daily walk. And they may not appreciate all of the
grooming that is needed before they are shown.
All of this care devoted on the animal goes to waste if the animal escapes from
its pen and becomes injured.Maybe you have experienced this. If could be a show
calf wants breaks free so that it can reach its mother and in doing so, the calf
becomes entangles in the barbed wire fence. In order to free the calf from what
holds it, the calf needs to be calmed down, the fence needs to be cut, and once
these items are completed, the calf can be set free.
What Jesus does in today’s Gospel lesson seems to be exactly what any good
live stock show exhibitor would do if an animal runs away. Hear how Jesus calms
down the woman. See how carefully He cuts her free from what binds her. Notice
how He then sets her free.
In the final analysis, it really does not matter why an animal escapes its pen
and traps itself in a fence because the only important fact is that the animal must
be freed. We all know what will happen if an animal stays trapped in the fence.
It will die. This understanding simply means that you must go out and find the
animal in order to give its life back.
Just like any other exhibitor that has had an animal escape, Jesus goes out and
walks the fence line trying to locate the lost one. But unlike any other person who
can only find animals after they are trapped, Jesus will be there before we are
tangled up in the fence.1 Today’s lesson clearly tells us that He was waiting for
the woman (John 4:4-6).
Some of us may have the incorrect idea that we can go out and find Jesus by
walking the fence line. The likelihood of this occurring is very low because Jesus
1
It is unfortunate that today’s assigned lesson left out Good News.

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is out looking for the lost. Others of us may think that we can extract ourselves
from the fence. We cannot do that because we do not know how tangled up we
really are. We need to remember the reason why anyone goes out and looks for
a trapped animal. It is to set the animal free. Applying this line of reasoning to
today’s lesson means that we should not concern ourselves with the questions of
why the woman came to the well during the heat of the day, why she came alone,
or why she was drawing water from this specific well.2
What matters the most to us is something altogether different. The Good News
is that Jesus is already there waiting to free her from the fence (John 4:4-6).3
After the animal is found and before doing anything else the animal must
be calmed down. This happens by treating the animal with great respect. If this
does not happen, then the animal will be frightened even more and it might hurt
themselves or the person who is trying to free them.
Today’s Gospel lesson shows how Christ’s attitude towards woman in general
and Samaritans in specific places the unnamed woman at ease.4 Rather than com-
pletely ignoring her because she was a woman or making derogatory remark about
her race, Jesus simply tells her to give him a drink of water. This simple action
shows us that God comes to meet us in our specific situation.
Of course, the woman at the well could have tried to run away from Jesus or
to become angry with God for what had happened to her. (After all, she is on her
sixth husband!) We can do the same thing when God tries to talk to us and we
focus all our energy on self-preservation instead of listening to God. This well
known “flight or fight” response will hurt us. If we leave, we will injure ourselves
as we try to pull away from the fence. If become upset and thrash out at God, our
actions will only cause us pain because we will hit the barbs on the fence. Jesus is
2
Some commentators have noted how strange this action by the woman really is because
woman come in groups to the well (1 Samuel 9:11). Working in the heat of the day is also odd. It
might have been because she was busy all night with a sick child. It could have been that she was
ashamed of her past and wanted to stay away from all the gossip.
3
We could stop the sermon here because we have already heard the Good News of how Jesus
is on the scene waiting for the lost. But if we were to do that then we would not see how Jesus
deliberately frees the woman so that she can live.
4
Today’s Gospel lesson is a study in contrasts with the one we heard last week. Nicodemus
was a learned Jew who came to Jesus during the middle of the night with questions for Jesus.
Because of his position of leadership, he kept the law the best he could. With this background, he
was unable to make the confession that Jesus is the Messiah. The woman in today’s story is the
complete opposite. She has no name, she comes from a despised race, she is not keeping the Torah
and she meets Jesus during the day without knowing who He is. Despite all those marks against
her, she goes and tells others what happened to her and allowed them to see Jesus.

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with us right now, trying to bring us a similar message. He loves you and me just
the way we are.
When the animal finally feels safe, the exhibitor must place themselves at risk
by holding the animal still while they cut the animal out of the fence. This means
that the correct tools must be brought along. If the exhibitor has forgotten this fact,
the fence cannot be removed from the animal.
Four different types of wire trap the Samaritan woman: the binding of birth,
the tangle of tradition, the wire of religion and sin’s fence.
One of the ways that our start in life traps us is we are either male or female.
In the culture of the day, women were property and either their father or their
husband owned them. (The only exception to this rule was widows. If no one from
their husband’s family took them in, they were all alone in the world.) Because all
women normally belonged to some man, men were not to speak to women they
did not own. Jesus cuts through this legal mess and speaks directly to the woman
at the well (John 4:7 and following).
Birth also ensnares us by placing us into a given race. Samaritans never shared
anything with Jews (John 4:9). In fact, most Jews of the day viewed the Samaritans
as “mixed blood” and because of this attitude relations between the Samaritans
and the Jews were very “hostile.”5 Jesus quickly and carefully removes this wire
by commanding the woman to give Him a drink from her water jar (John 4:7).
Tradition has forced the woman into the fence. Her upbringing has taught her
that no one can be greater than her father Jacob (John 4:12). Jesus deftly extracts
here from this predicament by telling her that His water is different. Unlike Jacob’s
water, Christ’s water quenches your thirst forever and gives you eternal life (John
4:13-14).
Religion has trapped many people in its grasp and it has also caught this
woman. Her belief teaches her that God must be only worshiped on the moun-
tain (John 4:20-21). Jesus strips off this portion of the fence and tells her what
really is important is worshipping God with your life (John 4:24).6
We do not know anything about the woman’s five husbands and it is pointless
for us to speculate why she is on her sixth man. But we do know that she is a
human and just like every human she has sinned sometime in the past. In her
present state and despite her sin, God was there before she arrived at the well and
God accepted her. All that is required of her is not to run away (John 4:21-26).7
5
S.D.B. Francis J. Moloney; Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., editor, The Gospel of John, Volume 4,
Sacra Pagina, (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1998), p. 120.
6
Ibid., p. 129.
7
In this section of John, Jesus never asks the Samaritan woman to repent.

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In each of these encounters with Christ, the woman could have refused to let
Jesus do what needed to be done. Everyone of us has the same option. We can stay
where we are and die because we cannot get the food and water that we need.
Jesus is willing to cut us out of all our messy situations. Even though we might
lash out at Him and hurt Him, He is more than willing to put Himself at risk so
that we can extracted from our problems. In every encounter with the woman at
the well, Jesus brought the correct tool to remove what bound her. He will do the
same for us. He will do anything, including dying on the cross, to remove us from
the fence that will kill us.
Once the animal has been cut free from the fence, the exhibitor realizes that
the animal needs food and water. Unfortunately, the animal often does not know
this and continues to think that they are still tangled up in the fence. The exhibitor
must send the animal on its way so that it can live.
Jesus sent the woman to find her sixth husband and then for them to come
back to Him (John 4:16). We do not know if her husband did what Christ ordered
him to do. We all have that choice of ignoring God’s Word and dying where we
stand. The Gospel lesson tells us that the woman returned to Jesus and she told
others who had found her. Because of her witness, Jesus spent two days with the
Samaritans (John 4:41).
Think about what would have happened if the Samaritan woman would have
stayed at the well where she encountered Jesus instead of going as commanded.
She literally would have died. Rather than doing this, she listened to Jesus and
followed His command to go.
When God frees us from the fence, we all have a choice to make. We can
stand where we are and not leave the place where God set us free. This is a very
tempting choice to make because we all want to remember where God came to us.
But if we stay here, we will surely die. Another option is to go back to our old way
of life. This way is quite easy for us because we know our routine. The problem
with this idea is that one day we will go back to the fence. A third alternative is to
kill the One who set us free. This often happens because we find the freedom He
gives us too frightening. The final and the most demanding choice of all is to go
and to tell others about the God who cut us free from the fence.
Jesus wants us to take that difficult option of telling others how God released
us. He wants us to invite others to come and see what we have seen (John 4:29.)
Even if our invitations are as weak as the woman’s, “Come and see a man who told
me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”, by the power
of the Holy Spirit, they will produce results, just like the woman’s confession.
Where are to go and who are we to tell this story to?

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Jesus Himself has provided us the answer to this question. Just has He started
the work in Samaria and had other people finished it He is asking us to do the
same. We are to lift up our eyes and see how the fields are already ripe for har-
vesting (John 4:35b).

John 4:5 So he came – It is extremely unfortunate that the lectionary leaves out
John 4:4 where we hear that Jesus was forced to go through Samaria. It is
a sin when we assume that we can come to God to to think that God never
comes to us. God meets us where we are. This happens because God is
neither a mountain nor a building but instead God is a man, alive with Spirit
and flesh who comes to find us in our specific situation.
a Samaritan city called Sychar – This city is unknown in the Old Testament.
It might be a corruption of Shechem.8 This city has a well nearby know as
“Jacob’s Well.”9

John 4:6 It was about noon – It is the sixth hour (ὡσεὶ ἕκτη ) or noon.

John 4:7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water – If 1 Samuel 9:11 is correct,
women would come as a group to draw water from the well. The time of
day and that she was alone gives us some hints that something is not quite
right. Was she tired from a long night of work?
and Jesus said to her – The dialog is started by Jesus. He should not speak
to her since she is a woman and a Samaritan.10 This lectionary reading is
one of the longest conversations that we have between Jesus and another
individual.
Give me a drink. – The word give is a command (δός second Aorist, active,
imperative, second person from δίδωμι) from Jesus to the woman.

John 4:8 His disciples had gone to the city to buy food. – The narrator explains
the missing characters.

John 4:9 Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans. – This parenthet-
ical expression is true.
8
Brian P. Stoffregen, John 4.5-42 3nd Sunday in Lent A, http://www.crossmarks.
com/brian/john4x5.htm.
9
Ibid.
10
Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of John, p. 116-117.

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John 4:10 If you knew the gift – Jesus takes the situation where the woman is
doing her daily task of drawing water out of the well and turns it into a
powerful witness to the God who gives abundant water to all. What can we
learn from this lesson?
He would have given you living water. – Traditionally, living water is not
just flowing water but also has pointed to something more than water.11

John 4:11 you have no bucket – A fact, plain and simple.

John 4:12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob? – By her question, it seems
that she cannot imagine that a Jew would be greater than a Samaritan. At this
time, Samaritans are seen as “mixed blood” and the race relations between
Samaritans and Jews were “hostile.”12

John 4:13 Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again – The con-
trast between living water and Jesus cannot be any starker. One leaves you
wanting for more while the other satisfies.

John 4:14 The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gush-
ing up to eternal life. – For the author of John, eternal life starts now.13

John 4:15 give me this water – The request is practical since one will no longer
need to make the difficult trip to the well.

John 4:16 Go, call your husband, and come back. – The author never tells us if
the husband comes to visit.

John 4:17 I have no husband. The woman is not trying to shift the conversation
from water to husbands because she wants to see if Jesus is a prophet.14

John 4:18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your
husband. – We do not have any background on the five other men. They
could have died, they could have been abusive, they could have divorced
her. Think about the uproar this must have caused in the small town. But
we need to remember this person had three strikes against her: She was
an outsider (Samaritan), she was a woman who could have been ritually
11
Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of John, p. 117.
12
Ibid., p. 120.
13
Ibid., p. 123.
14
Ibid., p. 127-128.

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unclean at the time Jesus met her, and her living with another man made her
a sinner. The text tries to drive us to see beyond the literal meaning of water.
She might not completely make the move but her trajectory is in the correct
direction.
A completely different interpretation of five uses the allegory of the five
deities worshiped in Samaria or the five nations that colonized the area.15

John 4:19 I see that you are a prophet. – For some definition of prophet, this
might be correct. But the reality is that the woman does not have enough
background to make this judgement.

John 4:20 Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain – There are some funda-
mental differences between these two traditions. If you are so smart Jesus,
then work them out.

John 4:21 the Father seeks such as these to worship him – God finds the people
of faith.

John 4:22 for salvation is from the Jews – This is the teaching of the early
church.16

John 4:23 will worship the Father in spirit and truth – This act of worship indi-
cates falling flat on your face (προσκυνέω).17
The concepts of spirit and truth all important terms for John because one
must worship God with one’s life.18 This is nothing more than a restatement
of Deuteronomy 6:5 that reads, “and you shall love the L ORD your God
with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”

John 4:24 those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth – This is what
God desires: complete and total dedication.

John 4:25 who is called Christ – The terms for Christ given by the Samaritan
lack the definite article.19 This includes ὅτι Μεσσίας used earlier in 4:25
and Χριστός here.
15
Craig R. Koester, ‘The Savior Of The World (John 4:42)’, Journal of Biblical Literature, 109
(1990):4, p. 675-576.
16
Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of John, p. 132.
17
Ibid., p. 133.
18
Ibid., p. 129.
19
Ibid.

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When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us. – The words of the woman
are true. When we come and see, we will have our own response to God’s
encounter with us.20

John 4:26 I am he – The Greek has here ἐγώ εἰμι “I am.” Jesus is clearly speaking
to the unnamed Samaritan woman that He is God.

John 4:27 Just then his disciples came – The narrator tells us that the other char-
acters have arrived.

John 4:28 the woman left her water jar – In the excitement over meeting this
prophet who says that He is “I AM” she runs off and leaves the thing that
she needed to tell others what has happened to her. If this only happened in
our worship service.
It is very important to note that in this entire exchange between Jesus and
the Samaritan, Jesus never forgives her. It seems from this lesson that for
Jesus it is enough to believe in Him.

John 4:29 He cannot be the Messiah, can he? – With all of her doubt and given
her unsavory past, she does something with the Word that has been given
to her. She goes out and tells others to “Come and see a man who told me
everything I have ever done!”
At this point, the NRSV mistranslates Christ (Χριστός) into Messiah.

John 4:30 They left the city – The ones who heard the woman’s testimony, went
to go see.

John 4:31 Rabbi, eat something. – This statement by the disciples indicates that
they do not move past physical food.21

John 4:32 I have food to eat that you do not know about. – This along with the
prologue and the interaction with the Samaritan woman, tell the disciples
(and in some way the audience) that they do not have all the insights on
who Jesus is.22
20
Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of John, p. 131.
21
Ibid., p. 138.
22
Ibid., p. 142.

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John 4:33 Surely no one has brought him something to eat? – One reading is
to assume that the disciples believe Jesus shared table fellowship with a
woman and a Samaritan at that.23

John 4:34 to do the will – The best manuscripts witness to the use of the present
tense.24

John 4:35 Do you not say – Jesus indicates that the harvest starts today not some
distant time in the future.

John 4:36 The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal
life – Jesus welcomes the Samaritan woman into the community and she is
already enjoying the benefits of being a follower.25

John 4:37 One sows and another reaps. – This saying may exist elsewhere.26

John 4:38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. There is no need to
do good deeds in hope that they will bring eternal life.27

John 4:39 because of the woman’s testimony – On one hand, you could see this
as Augustine did as two steps: “First by reputation, then by his presence.”28
On the other hand, there are no “second hand” experiences with the Word.29

John 4:40 he stayed there for two days – The Didache 11.5 might refer to this
duration.30

John 4:41 many more believed – Even when Jesus is present, there still are some
who do not or cannot believe.31

John 4:42 Savior of the world – This formula is only found in John 4:42 and 1
John 4:14.32 It is a phrase normally reserved for the emperor.33
23
Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of John, p. 142.
24
Ibid., p. 142-143.
25
Ibid., p. 144.
26
Ibid.
27
Ibid., p. 140.
28
Ibid., p. 144.
29
Ibid.
30
Ibid., p. 149.
31
Ibid.
32
Ibid., p. 147.
33
Koester, ‘Journal of Biblical Literature 109 [1990]’, pp. 665, 666-668.

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References
Francis J. Moloney, S.D.B.; Harrington, S.J., Daniel J., editor, The Gospel of John,
Volume 4, Sacra Pagina, (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press,
1998).

Koester, Craig R., ‘The Savior Of The World (John 4:42)’, Journal of Biblical
Literature, 109 (1990):4, pp. 665–680.

Stoffregen, Brian P., John 4.5-42 3nd Sunday in Lent A, http://www.


crossmarks.com/brian/john4x5.htm.

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