Readings John 3:1-15 & 4:1-15,25-26
As I said last week. John’s Gospel is very different from the other three. Even the geography being set mostly in Jerusalem rather than Galilee. The ministry of Jesus is quite different in this Gospel. In the other Gospels there is much secrecy around the Messianic Jesus whereas here early on John has two very different people with equally different backgrounds and expectations confronting the Messianic Christ.
There are no parables but again as we seen last week there is lots of symbolic language that goes beyond the word on the page. There is no driving out of demons or testing in the dessert. There is no account of the transfiguration. Even the Lord’s Supper looks very different with Jesus washing feet and speaking of being betrayed. All of John’s Gospel firmly fixed with an emphasis on Jesus. All of this is a deliberate piece of writing by John as he challenges the false prophets of his day who were denying the incarnation and the death and resurrection of Jesus having such saving significance. This is a post resurrection Gospel. Jesus is rooted very much in historical settings with his flesh and blood humanity also central. Jesus weeps we are told, Jesus grows tired and goes thirsty. Blood and water flow from his side at the crucifixion. And we turn to our readings this morning. Once again there are so many things to preach on but I want to try and look at them together from a different angle than we would normally do. Staying with this ‘knowing who are you’ theme. We have Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews, he most definitely knew who he was, a member of the main religious committee, the Sanhedrin. This group made up of seventy members exercised authority over all Jewish religious matters. Roman governors ruled on civil matters but allowed the Jews to oversee their religious affairs, with the proviso of course that this would be allowed as long as they did not challenge nor oppose the Roman government. We have the woman at the well, a Samaritan.
Once again she knew who she was, one whose people stood very much in opposition to the Jewish way of life. There was a time in history when they were as one but following defeat by Assyria who brought into Samaria many foreigners to settle in the land marriages took place between the different peoples and this caused the Jews to name the Samaritans as unclean and impure. Here we see this flesh and blood description of Jesus as he is described as being tired and thirsty. These two encounters are remarkably striking in how Jesus crosses over barriers that are put in place in life. Let’s put these meetings side by side and highlight the differences that occur. One held in the darkness of night, very much in secret. One held in the brilliance of daylight and in a very public place. The one in darkness between Jesus and a very devout Jewish ruler and teacher. The one in broad daylight between Jesus and, not only a woman which was contentious enough, but a woman from the sworn enemies of the Jewish people. The Samaritan woman returns to her village to tell others. Nicodemus we learn later stood up for him at the Jewish ruling council, then following the death of Jesus he asks for his body that he may prepare it for burial. At the end of the first reading Jesus speaks of a time that is in the future when he will be lifted up and all who believe in him will have eternal life. At the end of the second reading Jesus speaks in the present tense. When the Samaritan woman says she knows the Messiah will come and explain all things. Jesus answers her by saying he is the one they are waiting for and he, the Messiah, is with them now. We discover how Jesus takes those most common everyday simple words and fills them with such deep meaning. He speaks with Nicodemus about birth, he speaks about the human flesh, the wind blowing through the air. Things that we all know about but Jesus takes us to the next level, being born again, born not of the flesh but of the Spirit. The blowing wind becomes the unseen Spirit of God. He speaks with the Samaritan woman about being thirsty and the need for water. Remember she does not live in a place of plentiful water on tap.
No long soaks in a deep bath for her, no sprinkler to water her vegetables but a daily trudge to the well laden with heavy water jars. This is all powerful imagery. Jesus takes this everyday water and describes himself as the water of life. He becomes water that will never allow you to be thirsty again. Those who accept will experience a spring of water leading to eternal life. There are differences in the people and their encounters with Jesus but John gets that Jesus message across clearly during both encounters. Some beautiful words and memorable messages delivered amidst very ordinary conversations. It is what John gives us. Jesus conversing more with individuals rather than large crowds. A nervous religious leader and a promiscuous woman. Very different people and judged by others accordingly. Jesus meets with them and speaks with them showing no bias nor favouritism. Both carry away from their conversation a simple but yet profound image, second birth and living water. Individuals who respond to Jesus following close personal contact with him. Some others will follow too and yet others will be sceptical and even hostile. And as John tells us there are those who just do not understand despite the use of clear visual imagery. I wonder what our private conversations with Jesus would be like. Would we go to him secretly? Would we try to avoid him in the public places? Would we hear his message clearly and wish to tell others? Would we walk away still unsure? What is our relationship with the one who offers living water and eternal life?