John 4:5-42

Commentary Excerpt by Tom Boomershine

Jesus' discussion with the disciples occurs in the midst of the discussion with the Samaritans. The disciples here represent normal everyday Jews who are afraid of the Samaritans because there was constant battle going on between them: raids, conflict,people being assaulted when they came through Samaria. Talking with a Samaritan woman was a major violation of the law for a Jewish man. Men did not speak to women in public and especially not to Samaritan women. There were sexual connotations as well as the crossing of ethnic and political barriers. There is a whole lot going on in this conversation. The challenge is to convey that radicality and the reconciliation between Jews and Samaritans that is implicit in the Samaritans believing that Jesus is the Messiah.This is a remarkable story about the transformation of ethnic and religious conflict into the new bonds of community.

It is clearly implied that the Samaritan woman is an attractive woman. Maybe she was getting a little old after five husbands and now being on the sixth, but this also confirms that she was an attractive woman. For Jesus to ask her to give him a drink was extremely offensive, both because he was a Jew and because he was a man. The Samaritan woman's words can be told in a way that is flirtatious. If told in this way, the implication is that she is exploring the possibility that Jesus is asking her for a drink and violating expected social practice because he was interested in a more intimate relationship. While this is possible, it is more probable that she is asking why he has violated the normal social practices of Jews toward Samaritans. It is really arrogant of him to ask her for a drink because of all the Jews had done to Samaritans. She names this right away: "How dare you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan, for a drink. Jews won't have anything to do with Samaritans." This approach to the story also regards the explanation of Jewish attitudes toward Samaritans as part of the woman’s statement to Jesus rather than as an explanatory comment by the storyteller to the audience. In this approach, her initial response is one of being insulted and offended. Jesus' reply makes it clear that he is interested in a relationship with her but not a sexual relationship. He is offering a relationship that will transform her life and the relations between Jews and Samaritans.

In this dynamic conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman Jesus makes one provocative statement after another. Gradually her hostility is transformed into first curiosity and then respect. In order for this conversation to be credible as an invitation to the transformation of the woman, Jesus' voice needs to have no tone of disdain or criticism at all when he says, "You are right in saying you have no husband. You have had five husbands and the one you are with now is not your husband. What you said is true." It is simply a factual description. Jesus’ voice is the voice of one who recognizes the truth but is utterly non-judgmental. If it were judgmental, the conversation would have been over. So, in order for these words to be believable, they need to be said without disdain or a tone of judgment or critique.

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