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9. The Woman at the Well

John 4:1-42

‘THIS EVENING IS the start of the Sabbath,’ says John. ‘So, for the sake of those who keep it, there’ll be no dictating tonight. Then, when Sabbath ends tomorrow evening, the Lord’s Day begins, and we’ll be breaking bread and worshipping together. That means we’ll not be resuming the writing of my Gospel until Sunday afternoon, which is why I must press on with the story I’m going to tell you today … and finish it. As I said last night, it’s quite a long story, but it’s a lovely one.  Now … where did I leave things yesterday? Was it with Jesus and the rest of us in the north of Judea where we had spent some time baptising?’

‘Yes,’ says Barnabas. ‘But you then said that you went into Samaria. Why was that?’

‘Mainly because the Pharisees in Jerusalem were showing a little too much interest in Jesus. As the crowds coming to him for baptism increased – though we were actually the ones doing the baptising, not Jesus – we began to look more and more like a “movement” and the Jerusalem Council didn’t like movements. So, Jesus decided – or the Father told him – that it was time to move out of the Judean spotlight for the time being, and to begin his main ministry back in Galilee. If you read the other Gospels, by the way, you’ll find that it’s with the Galilean ministry that they all begin their story of the adult Jesus; none of them make room for this earlier part of the story as I’m telling it.’

‘So, do you have to go through Samaria if you want to get to Galilee?’ asks Leandros. ‘I’m sorry but I’ve never been to Palestine.’

‘No, you don’t,’ says John. ‘In fact, it was a big no-no for many of the Jews and, rather than set foot there, they would, if they needed to go to Galilee, take the long way round through Perea to the east of the Jordan; but the main road to Galilee went through Samaria, and it cut the journey from Jerusalem down from six days to a mere three days.’

‘What was so awful about Samaria?’ asks Leandros.

‘The answer to that is a bit complicated,’ says Ezra. ‘About 750 years ago, the Assyrians deported most of the Israelites from that area and resettled the land with other captive peoples so that it became a mixed bag of Jews and foreigners, and there was a lot on inter-marrying. On the religious front, the foreigners brought their own gods with them and over the decades a religion developed that, though it was based on the Torah – the five books of Moses – contained elements of pagan beliefs and practices. That is why, even though the Samaritans always regarded themselves as true Israelites, the Jews of Judea, further south, loathed them and regarded them as renegades with whom any kind of contact would be contaminating. As the saying went – “There’s no such thing as a good Samaritan”’’

‘But, clearly, Jesus didn’t share that view?’ says Barnabas.

‘Not at all – as you’ll soon find out,’ says the Apostle, getting to his feet. ‘What happened was this.’ John shuffles to the low wall of the courtyard. ‘We were approaching the town of Sychar in Samaria, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph, and we had reached the point where the road forked to east and west. There, at the fork in the road, was Jacob’s well, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well – like this*.’

Matching his action to his words, John collapses onto the wall and sits there, pretending to be utterly exhausted, eyes closed and gasping for breath. Then he opens his eyes, stops pretending, and shuffles back to his seat. ‘It was about the sixth hour,’ he adds. ‘Noon.’

Everyone watches him, waiting for him to continue, but John seems lost some private thoughts and a tear rolls down his cheek.

Archippus clears his throat. ‘Er … Are you all right, John?’ he asks.

John wipes the tear away. ’Yes,’ he says. ‘I’m sorry; I was just remembering another time when Jesus, his arms stretched wide upon the cross, again was thirsty [John 19:28] … but that is for much, much later in my Gospel.’

There is an awed silence for a while as they are all reminded that the old man in front of them was actually at Calvary and watched the Saviour die. Finally, Ezra brings John back to his narrative. ‘When you spoke of the well, you used the word pege –’ he says ‘– the source or spring of Jacob rather than the phrear – the well – of Jacob. Knowing you as we do, John, I imagine that that must be significant.’

‘Oh, it is,’ replies John, ‘and it becomes more so as the story goes on. But all I will say for now is that I think that, as Jesus sat down on the wall of that well, he was very conscious that he had come back to the source of Israel – the place from which, symbolically, the people of God had sprung. Remember that God had given the new name of Israel to Jacob (the one who had dug that well) and chosen him to be the biological life source of the people of Israel; the twelve tribes sprang from his loins. But now Jesus was there as the new source and spring of life for the new people of God; not biological life, but spiritual life.

‘Anyway, more of that in a moment; for now, let me get back to the story. All you need to know at this point is that the source of Jacob – the well, if you prefer – lies at the foot of Mount Gerizim – the Samaritan’s holy mountain, the one where their rival temple to the one in Jerusalem on Mount Zion used to be – and that it is very deep – 75 feet – with water percolating into it down in its depths.’

‘What happened to their temple?’ asks Leandros.

‘Just over 200 years ago, the Jews destroyed it,’ answers Ezra. ‘It was in the days of the Maccabeans.’

‘Can we move on, John?’ says Barnabas. ‘Obviously something happened at the well.’

‘Yes, it did,’ replies John. ‘A woman turned up, carrying her water jar and her cord and small leathern bucket with which to draw some water. Simon, Philip and the others had headed off to Sychar to get some food some time earlier and there was no one else around until she appeared. If I’d been with the others I would have missed the whole thing, but the thong of my sandal had snapped, and I was sitting on a rock a little way away from the well, trying to tie the bits together to make it wearable again.’

‘Noon is an odd time to come to draw water,’ says Archippus. ‘The sun is at its fiercest.’

‘Yes,’ says John. ‘And what was even more odd was that the woman had steered clear of the perfectly good well in Sychar and walked the half mile or so beyond it to get to Jacob’s well.’

‘Did you ever find out why?’ asks Archippus.

‘Yes, eventually,’ says John. ‘But I’ll come to that later. Let me keep things in sequence. The woman walked cautiously towards the well – her eyes darting between Jesus and me – and then stopped a few yards away. She clearly hadn’t expected to find anyone there and, seeing Jesus sitting on the wall of the well, she didn’t know quite what to do. But Jesus looked up at her, nodded at her bucket and very matter-of-factly said, “Shalom. Will you give me a drink?”

‘You know what, John,’ says Ezra. ‘For me, this story is carrying a kind of echo down the centuries from another story long ago – the story in the First Book of Moses of how Jacob (the one after whom this well was named) met his future bride, Rachel, at the well at Paddan Arram [Genesis 29:1-28]. Last Tuesday night, you told us the story of the wedding at Cana and you made the point that Jesus was there as the “bridegroom” who had come to woo and to win the whole wide world and make the church his “bride.” Then, just last night, you were telling us about how the Baptiser actually used that title for Jesus, calling him “the bridegroom.” So, is this now another story about Jesus the “bridegroom,” coming to make even the Samaritans part of his “bride?”’

The Apostle smiles mischievously. ‘You could look at it that way,’ he says.

‘But why hadn’t Jesus asked you?’ says Leandros, who hasn’t the foggiest idea what Ezra is on about.

‘Asked me what?’ says John.

‘Asked you to draw some water for him,’ says Leandros. ‘Instead of waiting to ask the woman.’

‘Ah … because there would have been no point in his doing so,’ replies John. ‘Simon and the others had thoughtlessly taken our travelling bucket off to Sychar with them.’

‘So, did the woman draw some water for Jesus?’ Barnabas sounds a bit irritated by Leandros’s constant interruptions.

‘No,’ says John. ‘She dropped her eyes and muttered, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” She understood, you see, that in the eyes of a Jew, she, a Samaritan woman, was a pollutant who would automatically defile anything she touched. That meant that the woman’s bucket was contaminated, her cord, her cup – the lot! But Jesus refused to get into all that. Instead he simply replied, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”’

‘“The gift of God?”’ says Archippus. ‘What did Jesus mean by that?’

‘The gift of God is the Torah,’ says Ezra. ‘Every Jew knows that. So too does every Samaritan. They believe in the Five Books of Moses as much as we do – even if their version of them is as dodgy as a wooden denarius.’

John ignores Ezra’s jibe. ‘Yes,’ he says, ‘that is probably what Jesus meant … that if she truly understood the Torah she would understand who he truly was and would want the living water that he had come to bring to the world. Or he might, of course, have simply been referring to the living water itself or to God’s salvation generally.’

‘But what is hudor zon – living water?’ asks Archippus.

‘In everyday speech, it’s just the term both Jews and Samaritans use for running water –’ says John, ‘spring water – as compared to still water such as that at the bottom of Jacob’s well. But Jesus was using it in the special sense that the prophets had used it. Jeremiah, for instance, had heard God complaining [Jeremiah 2:13] that his people “have forsaken me, the spring of living water,” and Zechariah, talking about the Day of the Lord, had foretold [Zechariah 14:8] that, “on that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem.” But this woman at the well knew nothing of that so she completely misunderstood Jesus. “Sir,” she said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water – this spring water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”’

‘Huh, the cheek of the woman,’ mutters Ezra. ‘“Our father Jacob” indeed.’

‘Never mind that,’ says Archippus. ‘What was woman saying? That the best water that Jacob could provide was still water, and that it was good enough for him, and his family and livestock. So, who are you, Mr Stranger-at-the-Well, to talk about getting spring water for me out here beyond the fields where there aren’t any springs or even wells with springs at the bottom of them?’

‘Exactly,’ replies John. ‘But Jesus answered her by saying this: “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever once drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a pege of water – a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”’

‘So, once we receive the water of life from Jesus, it becomes a source of life within our own selves,’ say Archippus, thoughtfully. ‘I need never be thirsty because the well is within me.’

Barnabas nods excitedly. ‘But that surely means too that the living water Jesus gives isn’t just to provide us with the means of quenching our own thirst but to make us into wells from which others can have their thirst quenched too. Well’s aren’t private things.’

‘Yes – though we’re quick to forget that, aren’t we,’ says Archippus. ‘We can so easily become inward-looking – drawing on the Spirit to satisfy our own spiritual needs – and ignoring the thirst of the people around us who need to drink from the wells that Jesus has ordained us to be.’

‘How are we supposed to be a well for others?’ asks Leandros.

‘By being willing to share the life that is now within us,’ says the Apostle. ‘By being accessible, available and open. Tell me Leandros, have you never felt down, miserable, dry until you met up with … let’s say, Barnabas there … and found you’ve gone away from him with joy in your heart and a spring (no pun intended) in your step?’

‘Of course,’ says Leandros. ‘That happens to me all the time.’

‘And that’s because you’re drawing from Barnabas’s well,’ says John.

‘But you’ve just told us that we shouldn’t even get dry and thirsty once Jesus has given us the living water,’ says Leandros.

‘No,’ replies John. ‘What Jesus said was that whoever once drinks the water that he gives will never thirst because he will place the well of his Spirit within us. The water is always available. We need never thirst. But sometimes we ignore the well, or neglect it perhaps, and allow it to become blocked up. Then we stop drinking and often need to drink from the well in another brother or sister to bring our own well back into use. The living water is in us all and is to be shared with all. But the Samaritan woman understood nothing of that. She took what Jesus said as some kind of jest and responded with a quip of her own. “Sir,” she said, “Give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”’

‘And did Jesus then explain to her what he really meant?’ asks Barnabas.

‘No,’ replies John. ‘He did something quite unexpected. He told her to go and fetch her husband.’

‘Why did he want her to do that?’ asks Barnabas.

‘I’ll explain when we’ve had a bite to eat and something to drink,’ replies John. ‘Look, it must be close to noon here just as it was on that day in Samaria – the sun is almost directly overhead. Let’s move into the shade, shall we?’

An hour or so later, John gives a contented sigh and brushes from his beard the crumbs of a delicious honey cake – one of a large batch that Phoebe had brought for those who were gathered together to hear the aged Apostle dictate his Gospel to the Elder. ‘Oh, my dear sister,’ he says. ‘I pray I’ll live just a little longer to enjoy more of those. But come, it’s time to carry on with my story of the woman of Samaria.’

‘What about your afternoon nap, John?’ asks Archippus. ‘Don’t you think you ought to take it now?’

‘Not today,’ replies the Apostle. ‘I need to finish this story before the first three stars are in the sky. Now, where was I?’

‘Jesus had just told the woman to go and fetch her husband,’ says Barnabas, ‘and I was wondering why.’

‘I think it was because she knew full well that Jesus was talking about his ability to give her a life that would really satisfy, deep down in the heart of her,’ says Ezra. ‘And he was telling her, in a roundabout way, that such a life must be shared with those closest to us. It’s not a private matter.’

‘It may well have been that,’ says John. ‘But, as you’ll find out in a moment, it was mainly because the woman held a secret which the Father had somehow disclosed to Jesus – a secret that she needed to bring to Jesus in order to open her heart to receive the living water. And, I’m glad to say, bring it to Jesus she did. “I have no husband,” she told him.’

‘But being single is not a crime,’ says Leandros.

‘Oh, she was hardly single,’ replies John. ‘I didn’t know that, of course, but Jesus did; and he immediately replied, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”’

Five husbands,’ says Leandros. ‘And the man she was then living with …’ His voice tails off. ‘Wow! No wonder she avoided the other women at the other well. No wonder she was out getting water in the midday sun.’

‘Yes,’ says John. ‘Though we Jews certainly saw nothing wrong in re-marriage, our rabbis taught that no woman should re-marry more than twice, and I imagine the Samaritans thought likewise. But I never discovered what the woman’s background was. Maybe she’d had husbands who had died. Maybe some had divorced her.’

‘But,’ chips in Phoebe, ‘let’s not forget, shall we, just how easy it is for men to divorce their wives on the smallest pretext – overcooking the stew, forgetting to buy the wine, or … or … developing a twitch even! And as for her not being married to the man she was then living with, well my guess is that he was probably refusing to marry her and exploiting her economic vulnerability. Maybe he was all that stood between her and a life on the streets. Honestly, you men! You make women utterly dependent on you for their survival and then despise them when they end up in the situation this poor woman had found herself in.’

‘No one is despising her, dear Phoebe,’ says John. ‘And Jesus certainly wasn’t. He wasn’t out to condemn her when he told her she had five husbands. He simply needed her to know that he knew all about her and was offering her the water of life anyway.

Ezra has been thoughtfully stroking his beard. ‘Erm … Are you sure she really had had five husbands, John?’ he asks.

John looks at him quizzically. ‘Why do you ask, Ezra?’ he says. ‘What are you getting at?’

‘Well,’ says Ezra, ‘we are told in the Second Book of Kings [2 Kings 17:29] that when the Assyrians had taken the cream of the Jews from Samaria into exile in Media, five other races were settled there to replace them. Those alien people brought with them their own so-called gods and, by embracing those false gods, the Jews who remained in Samaria might be said to have “married” them. Marriage is often used in the Scriptures to symbolise the relationship of a nation with its god. So, the Samaritans would have had “five husbands” and, carrying the idea forward, “the one they now had” – the one true God – was “not their husband” because their worship of him was now adulterated and untrue.’

‘What an interesting idea,’ says John, ‘but probably not one that Jesus had in mind. Or, if he did, I don’t think that, judging by her reaction, the woman picked up on it at all.’

‘Why? How did she react?’ asks Barnabas.

‘She was shocked,’ replies John. ‘Her eyes widened, and her hand flew to her mouth and she blurted out, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet.” Then, clearly trying to regain control of the situation, she broke eye-contact, pointed behind her to Mount Gerazim and the ruins of the temple there, and attempted to move the conversation onto safer ground. “Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”’

‘What was that all about?’ asks Leandros.

‘Well,’ says Ezra, ‘the Samaritans had re-written the Torah to suit themselves. The Torah says [Genesis 22:2] that Abraham took his son Isaac to sacrifice him on Mount Moriah – which is the other name for Mount Zion and is where the Jerusalem temple still stood at the time Jesus was talking to the woman – but the Samaritans had changed the text to read Mount Gerizim. Then, the Torah says [Deuteronomy 27:4-8] that when the Israelites first entered the promised land, they were commanded to build an altar and worship on Mount Ebal but the Samaritans had changed that too to read Mount Gerizim. So, this woman had been brought up to think that Mount Gerizim was the true place to worship God, but she knew the Jews thought Jerusalem was the correct place. Who was right? It must have been important to her because she must have thought that worship was all about location, location, location. Get the place wrong and your worship wasn’t worship at all. If Jesus was a prophet, he might have the answer.’

‘Do you think the woman suspected that Jesus might be the prophet?’ asks Barnabas. ‘The one that God had told Moses he would raise up out of Israel – a prophet like Moses himself [Deuteronomy 18:18].’

‘Perhaps,’ replies John, ‘but Jesus did not pursue that. Instead he picked up on the woman’s belief that, when it came to worship, location was everything. “Woman,’ he said, ‘believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”’

John looks round the little group listening to him. ‘This is important for all of us to be quite clear about,’ he says. ‘What Jesus was saying was that the revelation given to the Jews from Abraham onward, through all the prophets right up to John the Baptiser, was the fertile soil – the unique provision of God to the world – from which the tree of life and salvation (Jesus himself) would sprout, and that until Jesus’ arrival on earth, Jerusalem was indeed the place designated by God for worship; but that he, Jesus, was now in the process of rendering all places and buildings irrelevant. Because we are ourselves, individually and corporately, are temples of the Holy Spirit, we can and should worship anywhere and everywhere. We are worshipping now, in this courtyard. Tomorrow, on the Lord’s day, we shall worship in the house of Alexander the silversmith (if you can manage to carry me there.) The location is of no consequence; what matters is that we worship in Spirit and in truth.’

‘I’m sorry to be always asking questions,’ says Leandros, ‘but what does that mean?’

‘It means,’ says the Apostle, ‘that those who are filled with the Spirit of Jesus – the living water – are led by the Spirit in the way they respond to God’s goodness and grace and beauty and holiness. The Spirit in their hearts opens their eyes to the truth about the Father and the Son and brings about a response that is genuine worship – an outpouring of love and praise and thanksgiving from the heart that is authentic and not all “put on” or showy – far removed from the merely legalistic rituals that have always marked so much of temple worship.’ John smiles and adds, ‘Just as our worship will be “in the Spirit” and “real” as we meet in Alexander’s house tomorrow.’

‘What did Jesus mean when he said that God is Spirit?’ asks Barnabas. ‘You’re always saying that God is Love.’

‘He meant that, viewed from a human perspective, that is how we see God acting and working,’ replies John. ‘It’s like when I say that God is Love or God is Light. I don’t mean that God is nothing more than love or light; I mean that, in all his dealings with us, God acts in love and in all his dealings with us he brings light into our darkness. To say that God is Spirit is to say that he is not bound by time and space, and that is why we don’t need to go to a particular place at a particular time to meet with him and worship him. To say that God is Spirit is to say that, though he was present with us for thirty or so years in the physical body of Jesus, he is now present to us, and in us, in active, purposeful, life-giving energy that is entirely free and unlimited by anything that limits us in this material universe.’

‘How did the woman respond to what Jesus had said?’ asks Ezra.

‘Dismissively,’ says John. ‘You see, everything that Jesus had said had gone straight over her head. She couldn’t grasp it at all, so she gave a disappointed sigh and said, “I know that Messiah – the one they call the Christ – is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”’

‘Did the Samaritans see the Messiah as being the same as “the Prophet” that God had promised?’ asks Barnabas.

‘Yes,’ answers Ezra. ‘The Samaritans called him the Taheb and believed he would one day come and restore everything to what it was meant to be. But do go on, John. How did Jesus answer the woman?’

‘He said something utterly shocking to her ears,’ replied John. He looked her straight in the eye and said in a voice that rang with absolute truth and authority, “I, the one speaking to you – I AM.”’

‘Yahweh!’ breathes Ezra. ‘Ego Eimi – the name of God himself [Exodus 3:14].’

‘Though, in everyday speech, ego eimi could just mean “I am he,”’ comments Barnabas.

‘It could,’ agrees the Apostle, ‘but it was pretty obvious from the look on the woman’s face that she knew full well the claim that Jesus was making.’ John looks across to the Elder. ‘Are you managing to keep up with my narrative, my dear friend?’ he asks.

‘Just about,’ says the Elder. ‘Though there are a couple of things I’d like to check with you.’

‘We can do that now, while the others prepare the Sabbath meal,’ says John. ‘Then, hopefully I can finish my story of the woman at the well before the candles have been lit.’

‘We’re ready when you are, John,’ says Ezra. The table is set indoors, and the food has been prepared.’

‘Good,’ replies the Apostle. ‘Well, when Jesus said, “I, the one speaking to you – I AM,” the woman gasped and took a step back; but then, before either she or Jesus could say anymore, Philip and the others came around the corner, chattering with each other – until, that is, they saw Jesus talking with the woman; then they lapsed into silence. They were shocked, you see. At that point, we hadn’t known Jesus very long, and we certainly hadn’t yet learned that, for him, ordinary conventions were there to be broken if they got in the way of the will of the Father. In Palestine at that time, men simply did not speak to women in public – even their wives, if they could help it – so Peter and Philip and the rest just assumed it must have been the woman who had broken with convention and spoken to Jesus, and they wanted to ask her, “Why are you doing that? What do you want?” I imagine they also wanted to ask Jesus what on earth he was doing, talking with this woman rather than totally ignoring her; but, of course, they didn’t dare interrupt whatever it was that was going on.’

‘So, what happened?’ Leandros (who had been helping Ezra put the food on the table indoors) suddenly “discovers” a small bunch of grapes in his hand and surreptitiously pops one into his mouth.

John smiles. ‘The woman glanced behind her at Peter and the rest,’ he says, ‘then looked back at Jesus, and then – without another word – placed her empty water jar on the ground, turned and took to her heels, running towards Sychar.’

‘But she was coming back,’ says Barnabas. ‘Otherwise she would have taken her water pot with her.’

‘Or was she?’ Ezra leans forward. ‘Is the empty water jar another symbol, John? Do you want your readers to see it as representing her empty past life and her empty old religion – now left behind because she’s become part of the new creation and been filled with the living water?’

‘That’s for you to decide,’ says John. ‘But the woman did come back. We learned later that, when she got to Sychar, she begged everyone who would listen, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” And many of those she spoke with were curious enough to take her at her word. They came out of the town and made their way to the well where we and Jesus were having a rather strange conversation.’

‘What do you mean – “a strange conversation?”’ asks Ezra.

‘Well, when the woman had left, my fellow-disciples started getting out the food they’d bought in Sychar – bread, olives, cheese and so on – and said to Jesus, “Come on, Rabbi, eat something. You must be starving!” But Jesus told them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” Obviously, we were all puzzled by that and Peter (who was handing me a new pair of sandals they’d bought for me while they were in the market) asked me, “Did someone bring him food while we were in the village?” But, even as I was shaking my head, Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”’

‘So, Jesus was saying he came here to earth with a job to do,’ says Barnabas, ‘and that he got all the sustenance he needed from doing that job. But what was the job? And in what way had he done it and finished it in the short time the disciples had been down to Sychar on their shopping trip?’

‘His job – the mission on which the Father had sent him here – can be described in many ways,’ replies the Apostle. ‘But I would say that it was to seek out and save all who are lost, and to bring them safely back into union with the Father. From the perspective of eternity, that mission was accomplished at the cross. “Tetelestai” was Jesus triumphant cry as he breathed his last {John 19:30] – “It is finished. It is accomplished!” Jesus used the very same verb then that he used here in my story of what happened at Jacob’s well.’

‘But it wasn’t really finished, was it, John?’ Archippus sounds puzzled. ‘I mean it still isn’t – far from it. In just this city, the “lost” must outnumber the “saved” by a thousand to one.’

‘What I said was that, from the perspective of eternity, the job was done,’ replies John. ‘But within space and time, that finished work of Jesus on the cross becomes a reality only as one individual after another is sought out, saved, and brought back to the Father. And that is what happened at the well. When Jesus engaged with the Samaritan woman, he was not only “doing the will of the Father” but he “finished the Father’s work” in her; she passed from death to life, she became part of the new creation. And that is true of each of us here; Jesus sought us, saved us, and brought us to the Father. And he continues to do that – making his completed work a reality in time and space – as, by his Spirit, all across the world, in generation after generation, each one who is “found” finds others and shares with them the good news of Jesus.’

John looks around at the little group who are listening to him. ‘I think that incongruity between time and eternity probably lay behind what Jesus said next. It was this: “Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labour.”’

‘So, was it harvest time when Jesus met the woman at the well?’ asks Leandros.

‘No,’ says John, ‘it was not long after Passover and in Palestine the wheat harvest doesn’t begin until after Pentecost. There was plenty of wheat in the fields, but it was not yet ripe; and, in any case, that was not what Jesus was referring to. He was pointing to a crowd of Samaritans who were making their way towards us – led by the woman who had left her water pot. The sun reflecting off their garments was making them look like ripened wheat. And what he was saying was that they were ready to be harvested – to pass from death to life, to enter the Kingdom of God – even though, in human terms, it seemed that the seed of faith had only just been sown in their hearts by the woman’s testimony.’

‘I know that the prophet Joel used “harvest” as a symbol of the gathering of people into God’s kingdom [Joel 3:13],’ says Ezra, ‘but I’ve always understood that he was talking about the Last Day.’

‘This is “the Last Day,”’ replies John. ‘The Age to Come has begun and we are living in it! And I think what Jesus was saying to us was that, again from the point of view of eternity, the harvest has already been reaped though it is still going on in terms of time; and that, here in time, seed-time and harvest are being brought together. You surely remember what the prophet Amos said about the Day of the Lord, Ezra? “In that day, the ploughman shall overtake the reaper” [Amos 9.13]. Sowing and reaping will be going on together; and those who sow will be just as glad at what is happening as those who reap. The one who sows will not necessarily reap what he has sown, though he may well reap what others have sown – just as Philip the Evangelist reaped an even bigger harvest in Samaria several years after our visit there [Acts 8:4-25] – but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that now is harvest-time.’

‘Why did Jesus say that he’d sent you – past tense – to reap what you hadn’t worked for?’ asks Barnabas. ‘He hadn’t sent you anywhere at that point, had he?’

‘Again, Jesus was talking from a point outside of time,’ replies the Apostle. ‘Back there, in Sychar, we saw ourselves as we were at that time – fresh followers, not knowing what was going to happen or what we would be asked to do – but Jesus, from his eternal vantage point, saw us as already powered by the Spirit and engaged in his mission, reaping God’s harvest and rejoicing at being the ones to do so.’

‘What about the Samaritans whom the woman brought?’ asks Leandros. ‘Did you “harvest” them?’

‘A lot of them did truly enter into life-changing faith,’ replies John. ‘The living water that the woman had received from Jesus was already overflowing to others for she had really convinced a great many of the villagers that Jesus was someone so special that he might indeed be the Taheb – the Messiah – mainly because of the in-depth knowledge he’d shown of her and her past, even though he’d never set eyes on her before. So, not long after they’d arrived and started talking with him, they urged him to come to Sychar and stay with them. They wanted to hear more.’

‘And did you stay?’ asks Barnabas.

‘Yes,’ says John. ‘We stayed two days. And because of what Jesus said to the inhabitants of Sychar, many more became believers. They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world.”’

‘“Saviour of the world” is a big jump from the “prophet like Moses” that the Samaritans were on the look-out for,’ says Ezra.

‘It is,’ says Archippus, ‘but isn’t that an indication that their faith had become personal and real? It’s only when you have a personal experience of Jesus that you realise just who he is. Or that’s how it was for me. Hearing about Jesus was one thing but having him become present in my heart by the power of his Holy Spirit was something else. That’s when I came alive and knew him to be the Father’s only Son, the Saviour of the world, the Lord of all.’

‘Amen,’ says the Apostle. ‘And let’s remember, Archippus, you are a Greek, I am a Jew, and the people in Sychar were Samaritans. So, yes – Jesus is indeed the Saviour of the World. And now look – two stars are already visible in the twilight. We’ve finished just in time. Will you help me indoors, please, before the third star appears and Sabbath begins …

* The word houtos – meaning ‘thus’ or ‘like this’ is there in the Greek text but most translations omit it because it didn’t make any sense once the story had been written down rather than told and enacted in some way.

8. More Testimony from the Baptist | 10. The Royal Official’s Son

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