Oct 16 Downtown – John 4:1-41

Vintage Downtown: On Sunday, October 16, Tyler was out sick, so Jordan filled in with a sermon out of John 4. Below is the corresponding discussion guide. Vintage Durham, North, West, and Chapel Hill will all remain in Colossians 3:12-15 (here’s that discussion guide), but a heads up, Downtown will be moving a couple things around in the series because of this and will be looking at that passage next week. i.e. Downtowners, don’t skip ahead and discuss Col 3:12-15, it’ll make next week confusing. 

Doubtless you’re familiar with the deep-seated, cross-cultural tension that existed between Samaritans and Jews during the New Testament era. Grasping Jewish disdain for Samaritans in the first century is crucial to understanding Jesus’ interaction with the woman at the well, so it deserves more than a cursory look. Here’s a good overview of the bad blood between Jews and Samaritans: https://www.bibleodyssey.org/en/people/related-articles/samaritans

John 4 even explains this tension and the surprising nature of Jesus’s interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well. v.9 points out that “Jews have no dealings with Samaritans,” and the woman herself says, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” The woman is amazed, and probably quite wary, of such a request. But she doesn’t know that this kind of thing is characteristic of Jesus’s ministry. He was constantly talking to people he shouldn’t and welcoming social rejects.

There’s a lot to the conversation in this passage. Jesus reveals that the woman has had multiple husbands and is currently living with a man who isn’t one of them. Many differing conclusions have been drawn about this particular facet of her life. With different social norms, abrupt divorces (Matt. 19:7), and short life spans in this era, it’s hard to tell whether the woman was using her body to secure a place to live, or being mistreated by a male-dominated society, or just had a rough life that resulted in her seeking comfort in the wrong places. Whatever the case, Jesus draws out this specific element of the woman’s story to show that he welcomes her in spite of her guilt, shame, and disobedience.
Jesus and the woman also cover the central theological difference between Judaism and Samaritanism, disagreements over the proper location for worship; Jews said Jerusalem, Samaritans said Mount Gerizim, what the woman calls “this mountain” in v.20. Jesus uses this to introduce the way in which his followers will worship God: in spirit and in truth. In Jesus, worship is being widened from sacrifices at a specific site to the inward and outward life of believers, and this is because the Spirit of God is moving from the Holy of Holies in the Temple into the hearts of believers. He’s telling the woman, “Now you are far off, but God is making a way for you to come close to him.” We can see why this moves the woman, why she forgets her water jar and runs into the town to tell everyone about Jesus, because she has found welcome where she thought there could be none. This is exactly the same way Jesus receives us.

That impulse to go and tell will occupy the last bit of our discussion. The woman arrives breathless in her town not as someone with the moral high ground, or greater insight, or a perfect performance record. She shows up simply like a thirsty woman who has found water, telling everyone where to find it too. Telling others about Jesus is a daunting task, one in which you feel pressured to align all the right variables like not coming off too strong, not Bible bashing thumping, not seeming like a weirdo, leaving room for further conversation, etc. etc. Sometimes the intent here is good, like wanting the best possible experience for the person to whom you’re talking. Often the intent here is not good, like worrying about whether the person will think less of you if you evangelize them (remember Jesus saying a servant will be treated like their master? John 15:20), or worrying that it will make them uncomfortable (remember Jesus saying his words will divide families and friends? Matt 10:34).

We’ll close by asking ourselves how we would like to grow in telling others about Jesus and inviting one another’s help in that endeavor. Keeping the story of the Samaritan woman in mind, we remember that it’s not our evangelizing that saves us but Jesus’ mercy. We come to others not as moral elites, or those with greater knowledge, but as thirsty men and women who have found living water. To all those in our neighborhoods, workplaces, and families who thirst, this is good news.

Questions for Discussion

• Could someone read Colossians 3:12-15 for us?

• Could someone read John 4:1-41 for us?

• What stood out to you from the passage?

• Look at verse 9. How do you think cross-cultural tension plays into the story here?

• How would you characterize Jesus’ conversation with this woman?

• How can this story help you understand how Jesus feels about you?

• Why do you think she went to tell her town?

• When it comes to telling others about Jesus, how would you like to grow in that? How can we support one another in that growth?

Resource: Jordan’s 99 wondering questions for striking up meaningful conversations →