Jesus’ Encounter with the Samaritan Woman in Its Narrative Context

Most of the episodes in the first of part of John’s Gospel, the so-called Book of Signs (1:19-12:50), involve Jesus’ interaction with Jewish religious authorities and institutions. Jesus’ self-revelation through “signs,” John’s word for Jesus’ miraculous acts, and through sayings, particularly the “I am” discourses, occurs in the context of critical and often hostile interaction with Jewish religious authorities. Consider how John’s account of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman (4:1-42) fits within a narrative that presents a sustained critique of Jewish religious authorities and institutions.

  1. Note how Jesus turns the Samaritan woman’s remark about the religious reason for division between Jews and Samaritans into a critique of religion institution in general. How do Jesus’ comments about worship in Jerusalem relate to his action at the temple and his proclamation about it in chapter 2?
  2. How do Jesus’ comments about the Jerusalem temple in chapters 2 and 4 relate to testimony about the activity of God’s Logos in the prologue (1:18)? Note the statement, “The Word (Logos) became flesh and lived among us” (1:14; NRSV). The Greek word translated “lived” literally means “pitched a tent.” For a discussion of what this means in a Jewish context, see Dorothy Ann Lee’s comments in NIB One Volume Commentary, p. 713. Note the reference to “my tent” in Sirach 24:8, in the midst of verses describing the work of Wisdom. In the sections “Christology” and “Background of the Prologue” in Introducing Jesus and the Gospels (277-279), Murphy discusses parallels between the work of Wisdom in Jewish scripture and Christ’s work as the Logos. Consider how John’s Gospel affirms the universal scope of the redemptive work of the Logos in contrast to Sirach’s description of God creating a dwelling place for Wisdom in the Jerusalem temple.
  3. Comparing Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman with his encounter with Nicodemus. Does the Samaritan woman understand Jesus’ testimony about himself and his work any better than Nicodemus? How does her action after her encounter with Jesus compare with that of Nicodemus? Consider how this episode focuses on the relation of faith to understanding, a theme that arises later in episodes involving Jesus interaction with his disciples (6:60-71) and his brothers (7:1-8).
  4. Note the interpretative comment for 4:16-19 in NISB. Based on your analysis of how 4:1-42 functions within narrative structure of John’s Gospel, do you agree with Gail O’Day’s judgment that John’s account of Jesus and the Samaritan woman “has been consistently misinterpreted”? If this judgment is correct, why is it? Is Jesus’ critique of religious authorities and institutions in John’s Gospel relevant to Christian churches today?

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ACED ESSAYS