John 4:16-26

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband;’ for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.

Once again, interpretation is everything. If we believe that this woman has led a scandalous life, then we are apt to view her question about worship as a dodge: Jesus has called her on her lifestyle, and so she quickly changes the subject. But if, instead, we view her story as tragic and see she her as the victim of circumstance, then everything changes.

For starters, we recognize that her question is not an attempt to change the topic but rather to go deeper. The question about the proper location for worship was one of the matters that most deeply divided Samaritans and Jews. So when this woman brings up this topic, she is inviting Jesus to discuss a fundamental difference between them.

Moreover, she begins by saying, “Sir, I see you are a prophet.” In John’s Gospel, “seeing” is regularly equated with believing. And so the preface she offers to her monumental question isn’t simply a polite acknowledgment but the beginning of a confession of faith. We might hear it this way, “Sir, I believe that you are a prophet of God, and for this reason I will risk asking why you insist that we all worship in Jerusalem when my people have worshipped on the mountain for generations?”

In response, Jesus takes her question most seriously, both affirming the tradition of Judaism that he represents but also relativizing that tradition and, indeed, all prior traditions in light of the “new thing” God is doing in and through Jesus. Jesus’ pronouncement in turn prompts the woman to an even deeper confession, as she affirms that she believes that God’s anointed, the Messiah, is coming, the one who will bridge all divides, share all truth, and bring God’s disparate people together. And this woman’s confession sets the stage for Jesus own confession: that he is this One.

As it turns out, once we move beyond the traditional interpretation – and perhaps our preconceptions? – of this woman as scandalous, this passage not only becomes far more comprehensible and interesting, but one of the pivotal scenes in John as Jesus reveals himself to this outsider, a Samaritan woman in desperate circumstances who nevertheless sees God at work in and through him.

Prayer: Dear God, let us recognize, give thanks for, and listen to all those people on the outside of our communities who catch glimpses of your truth and confess what they see and believe. In Jesus’ name, Amen.