Interpretation 4

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  Copyright 2001 Jeanie C. Crain
Last modified: March, 2002

    John's theology is clearly apparent in John 4. We see the theologian in the interpretive whisper in verses 1 and 2 when we are told that Jesus himself did not baptize:

1 Now when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples),

Theology and the need to develop Chist-ianity explain the critical importance for the mixed-blood Samaritan woman (4-29) and the conversation at the well. That the well is Jacob's well brings together, once again in John, the old and new, the new (and Christ-ianity) embodied in the metaphor of living water that eternally quenches thirst. Christianity is the purpose, too, of locating the place of worship:

20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship."21 Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."

The same universal outreach to humankind explains the prolonged visit of Jesus in the City of Samaria (40) in order than many might believe (41) and identify Jesus as Christ, the Savior of the world (42) That Jesus returns to Galilee and Cana, where the water has been transformed into wine is structurally, once again, related to John's purpose in writing this gospel: that people might believe that Jesus is the messiah, the Son of God, and that, believing, they might have eternal life (20.31). Finally, importantly, Jesus' second sign is more marvelous than wine: the transformation of death into life in the official's son, itself a symbol of the transformation achieved in the believing heart. This is the second sign and the uncontested Christ!

  Not infrequently, commentators interpret  the first verses in John 4 as instituting Christian baptism, although many have missed, apparently, John's whisper that Jesus himself did not baptize. The Fourfold Gospel explains:

(Although Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples). Jesus, as divine Lawgiver, instituted baptism, and his disciples administered it. We nowhere hear of the disciples of John administering baptism. In fact, the Baptist, like the disciples of Jesus, baptized under a divine commission, and could not delegate the power to others. It was the office of Jesus to commission others to this work, not to perform it himself. Had he done so, those baptized by him might have foolishly claimed for themselves some peculiar honor by reason thereof (1 Corinthians 1:14,15). Jesus was the spiritual baptizer, in which baptism the efficacy lies in the administrant; but water baptism, the efficacy of which lies rather in the spirit of the one baptized than in the virtues of the administrant, Jesus left to his disciples.

http://bible.crosswalk.com/Commentaries/TheFourfoldGospel

Verses one and two clearly contrast  Jesus to John , and the popularity of the disciples and Jesus explains only partially the return to Cana:

Jesus moves back into Galilee from Judea because the Pharisees have learned of his popularity (4:1). There has been no opposition from them up to this point, though the commotion in the temple has raised questions. Jesus is not "on the lam" yet (contrast 7:1), but he nevertheless clearly wants to avoid contact with the Pharisees. If Nicodemus had shared with his fellow Pharisees something of his conversation with Jesus, then they would have even more questions. They had sent agents to the Baptist to ask whether he was the Christ and to find out why he was baptizing (1:19-28). By moving on, Jesus avoids such questions and the confrontation that would inevitably follow. But he moves not merely for the sake of expediency; he moves because it is God's will. He only does God's will, and it is God's will not only that he avoid the Pharisees but also that he meet this Samaritan woman. Jesus had to go through Samaria (4:4). There is no geographical necessity for going through Samaria. The necessity is due to God's plan, as had (edei) indicates (cf. comment on 3:14). The Father was sending him there to look for those who would worship him in spirit and truth (4:23).

The necessity of going to Samaria remains  that the grace of God extends to all of humankind, this universalizing inclusiveness the backbone of Christianity, although some seem to have forgotten this.

    John 4 links back to chapter 3 and the disciples of John, who over a controversy about purification, have returned to John and essentially are complaining:

26 And they came to John, and said to him, "Rabbi, he who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you bore witness, here he is, baptizing, and all are going to him." 27 John answered, "No one can receive anything except what is given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him. 29 He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease." 31 He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth belongs to the earth, and of the earth he speaks; he who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony; 33 he who receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. 34 For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for it is not by measure that he gives the Spirit;35 the Father loves the Son, and has given all things into his hand. 36 He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him.

John's answers clearly and firmly: to "all are going to him," John replies, No one can receive anything except what is given him from heaven," and he reminds his own disciples that he himself has never claimed to be messiah but is only "the friend of the bridegroom" and admonishes that the bridegroom "must increase." He goes on then to proclaim John's two-realm theory: "He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth belongs to the earth, and of the earth he speaks; he who comes from heaven is above all." Jesus witnesses to what he has seen and heard, and John understands that Jesus "utters the words of God," that "the Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand." Then, John's purpose for writing, stated in 20.31 is suggested here, too: "He who believes in the Son has eternal life." The beginning of John 4 concludes this matter: 

1 Now when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), 3 he left Judea and departed again to Galilee.

The controversy has attracted the Pharisees, the street scholars of the religious community, and Jesus leaves Judea to go again to Galilee. The reader should note John's whispered aside: "Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples." This may suggest two baptisms: John's and that of Jesus. The Fourfold Gospel explains the baptism in clearly Christian application:

(Although Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples). Jesus, as divine Lawgiver, instituted baptism, and his disciples administered it. We nowhere hear of the disciples of John administering baptism. In fact, the Baptist, like the disciples of Jesus, baptized under a divine commission, and could not delegate the power to others. It was the office of Jesus to commission others to this work, not to perform it himself. Had he done so, those baptized by him might have foolishly claimed for themselves some peculiar honor by reason thereof (1 Corinthians 1:14,15). Jesus was the spiritual baptizer, in which baptism the efficacy lies in the administrant; but water baptism, the efficacy of which lies rather in the spirit of the one baptized than in the virtues of the administrant, Jesus left to his disciples.

http://bible.crosswalk.com/Commentaries/TheFourfoldGospel/tfg.cgi?book=joh&chapter=004

     The bulk of John 4 details the necessary time spent by Jesus in Samaria and the return trip to Cana. John insists that Jesus proclaims a universal invitation to the kingdom of God. The necessary trip to Samaria extends grace to those ostracized by the religious establishment, those of impure lineage and mixed religious practices. The trip to Cana prepares for the second sign, the restoration of the dying Capernaum official's son. 

    In John, John portrays Jesus as the connecting link between the past and the present:

4 He had to pass through Samaria.5 So he came to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.6 Jacob's well was there, and so Jesus, wearied as he was with his journey, sat down beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.7 There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink."s8 For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. 

    Commentary from the Fourfold Gospel provides background to the city of Sychar:

JESUS SETS OUT FROM JUDEA FOR GALILEE. B. AT JACOB'S WELL AND AT SYCHAR. John 4:5-42

So he cometh to a city of Samaria, called Sychar. Commentators long made the mistake of supposing that Shechem, now called Nablous, was the town here called Sychar. Shechem lies a mile and a half west of Jacob's well, while the real Sychar, now called 'Askar, lies scarcely half a mile north of the well.

Near to the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. It was a small town, loosely called a city, and adjoined the land which Jacob gave to Joseph (Genesis 33:19; Genesis 47:22; Joshua 24:32), Joseph's tomb being about one hundred yards east of it. The mummy of Joseph, carried out of Egypt at the time of the Exodus, was buried in this parcel of ground, and there is but little doubt that it really rests in the place indicated by the tomb; and though the name Sychar may be derived from the words "liar" or "drunkard", it is more likely that it means "town of the sepulcher", referring to this tomb.

Possibly more important is the reason for coming to this well: This well had been given to Joseph, and Joseph's body rests here. Thus, the well becomes the mediation point of the old and the new. A weary Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman who has come to draw water.  Jesus uses the symbolism of the well to explain his mission to provide a superior water that quenches thirst eternally: 10 Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, `Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water." The Samaritan woman, of course, is quick to question what she has been offered:

11 The woman said to him, "Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?" 13 Jesus said to her, "Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."15 The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw."

The woman apparently thinks of "living water" as a new source, but her misunderstanding introduces a "teachable moment":

6sn (4:11) Where then do you get this living water? The woman's reply is an example of the "misunderstood statement," a technique appearing frequently in John's Gospel. Jesus was speaking of living water which was spiritual (ultimately a Johannine figure for the Holy Spirit, see John 7:38-39), but the woman thought he was speaking of flowing (fresh drinkable) water. Her misunderstanding gave Jesus the opportunity to explain what he really meant.(Net Bble

This is, of course, Johannine theology. She questions first how  physically  Jesus intends to provide this living water, and second, whether he thinks himself superior to Jacob. Jesus, in John, replies simply that she must make a choice, physical water which quenches physical thirst or spiritual water that not only quenches spiritual thirst but becomes itself "a spring welling up to eternal life." No doubt, the Samaritan woman recognizes the offers and affirms quickly: Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw." Jesus responds effectively, Not so quick, Woman. First, there is this matter about... 

16 Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come here." 17 The woman answered him, "I have no husband." Jesus said to her, "You are right in saying, `I have no husband';18 for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly."

In this exchange, Jesus plumbs to the depth of the woman's soul, knowing her for who she is and offering to her the gift of grace: not surprisingly, the conversation now focuses upon the identify of the one who has offered the gift:

19 The woman said to him, "Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship." 21 Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." 25 The woman said to him, "I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ); when he comes, he will show us all things."26 Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am he."

The Samaritan woman readily recognize a prophet, but for the past to recede and the present to be realized, in John, means to move beyond Judaism into Christianity. The Samaritan woman points to the place of worship: that Jews believe it should be Jerusalem, that Samaritans have their own place of worship. Although salvation comes from the Jews, in John, Jesus points the way to the superior worship of the Father "in spirit and truth: God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." Thus, neither in Jerusalem nor on Gerazim will the worship of God be confined. The Samaritan woman then confides, "I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ); when he comes, he will show us all things." In John, the identity is clear: "I who speak to you am he," that is, Jesus is Christ!

    The reader recalls that the disciples had gone into the city to buy food (8). They would seem, in this case, to be attending to the physical need of hunger; Jesus, on the other hand, is concerned with spiritual matters. The disciples now return and question what Jesus is doing talking to this woman:

27 Just then his disciples came. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but none said, "What do you wish?" or, "Why are you talking with her?"

How completely the disciples have misunderstood their Rabbi is revealed in Jesus' words to them"

31 Meanwhile the disciples besought him, saying, "Rabbi, eat."32 But he said to them, "I have food to eat of which you do not know."33 So the disciples said to one another, "Has any one brought him food?"34 Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work.35 Do you not say, `There are yet four months, then comes the harvest'? I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already white for harvest.36 He who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.37 For here the saying holds true, `One sows and another reaps.'38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor; others have labored, and you have entered into their labor."

In short, their attention concerns physical hunger, and they ask about physical food, wondering who has supplied the Rabbi's need in their absence. Jesus' answer points them to spiritual matters: "My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish hi work."

74tn (4:34) The substantival i{na (Jina) clause is translated as an English infinitive clause.
sn (4:34) No one brought him anything to eat, did they? In the discussion with the disciples which took place while the woman had gone into the city, note again the misunderstanding: the disciples thought Jesus referred to physical food, while he was really speaking figuratively and spiritually again. Thus Jesus was forced to explain what he meant, and the explanation that his food was his mission, to do the will of God and accomplish his work, leads naturally into the metaphor of the harvest. The fruit of his mission was represented by the Samaritans who were coming to him. Net Bible

Jesus works to bring salvation, again reflecting a Johannine theological  interpretation of the life and acts of Jesus:

39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman's testimony, "He told me all that I ever did."40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days.41 And many more believed because of his word.42 They said to the woman, "It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world."

In short, the will of the Father includes the Samaritans, according to John, and as a result of the woman's personal testimony and their own experiences, the Samaritans now recognize the identity the one who walks among them: "This is indeed the Savior of the world." To continue showing how important the "world" mission is, Jesus lingers for two days in Samaria (43). 

    When Jesus does leave Samaria, he goes to Galilee. His reception there has been interpreted differently, with critics saying "his own country" is Judea or Galilee.

43 After the two days he departed to Galilee.44 For Jesus himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country.45 So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast, for they too had gone to the feast.

One would have to ask what difference would it make to the totality of John to choose either Judea or Galilee for "his own country." The Net Bible provides this account:

89sn (4:45) John 4:44-45. The last part of v. 45 is a parenthetical note by the author. The major problem in these verses concerns the contradiction between the proverb stated by Jesus in v. 44 and the reception of the Galileans in v. 45. Origen solved the problem by referring his own country to Judea (which Jesus had just left) and not Galilee. But this runs counter to the thrust of John's Gospel, which takes pains to identify Jesus with Galilee (cf. 1:46) and does not even mention his Judean birth. R. E. Brown typifies the contemporary approach: he regards v. 44 as an addition by a later redactor who wanted to emphasize Jesus' unsatisfactory reception in Galilee. Neither expedient is necessary, though, if honor is understood in its sense of attributing true worth to someone. The Galileans did welcome him, but their welcome was to prove a superficial response based on what they had seen him do at the feast. There is no indication that the signs they saw brought them to place their faith in Jesus any more than Nicodemus did on the basis of the signs. But a superficial welcome based on enthusiasm for miracles is no real honor at all.

 I choose the more inclusive that "his own country" would likely include both Judea and Galilee, for he is largely misunderstood and rejected by the religious elite and by his own family and community. As he has departed Judea to go to Samaria, so now he departs a Samaria community where many have believed and turns to Galilee, where he is greeted superficially for his reputation, and to the more important work of attending to the needs of one of the tetrarch's nobleman:

And there was a certain nobleman. Literally, "king's man", a word which Josephus uses to designate a soldier, courtier, or officer of the king. He was doubtless an officer of Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. That it was Chuzas (Luke 8:3) or Manaen (Acts 13:1) is mere conjecture.

The second sign moves beyond world mission, revealing the mission itself to be the thwarting of death for lifes:

52 So he asked them the hour when he began to mend, and they said to him, "Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him."53 The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, "Your son will live"; and he himself believed, and all his household.54 This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.

Furthermore, the second sign links overtly to the first sign:

 46 So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. 

Finally, the official's earnest request and response is contrasted to that of the Galilean's:

45 So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast, for they too had gone to the feast....47 When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.48 Jesus therefore said to him, "Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe."49 The official said to him, "Sir, come down before my child dies."

The Intervarsity Press Commentary indicates that the official may be either Jew or Gentile but, also, that a Jew in Herod's court would have been treated as a Gentile:

Then we are back in Cana (v. 46), where we see Jesus healing the son of a certain royal official (basilikos), a servant of Herod's court. This official could be either a Jew or a Gentile, and if he was a Gentile, then the divine grace revealed in this story is even more remarkable. But John does not indicate that the official is a Gentile, so we cannot be certain. In any case, for many Jews a servant at Herod's court would be little better than a Gentile, so the scandalous nature of God's grace is evident here even if the official is a Jew.

More important in this story the official responds: 

it says that the man took Jesus at his word and departed (v. 50). Here it becomes yet clearer that Jesus' statement about needing to see signs and wonders does not apply to this official. He believed Jesus' word alone, even a potentially ambiguous word. Even though he had requested that Jesus come with him to heal his son (v. 47), he believes Jesus can do it without coming with him. Here is faith indeed!

For John, the theological message is clear: belief is a matter of believing in the absence of sign or wonder; in fact, looking for signs and wonders becomes the stumbling block to faith. One recalls the metaphor of the wind in John 3. For Christianity, the difficulty of faith will be the same: over-reliance on the physical rather than spiritual reality.