By James Cornwell
A Reading from the Gospel of John 4:27-42
27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28 Then the woman left her water-jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” 30 They left the city and were on their way to him.
31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36 The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering 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 labour. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there for two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”
In today’s gospel, the Evangelist corrects a certain tendency to lose track of what matters first. The text begins with the return of the disciples, who had gone away to buy food. They come upon Jesus concluding his conversation with the Samaritan woman, who promptly leaves behind her water jar to spread the news of Jesus.
Contrast this with the disciples. First, they are concerned with the woman’s status, marveling that Jesus would deign to speak with her. Compare this with the woman, who boldly travels into the public square to declare that there is a man who told her all about her life — including things that surely were considered scandalous.
Next, the disciples fuss over Jesus, trying to get him to eat. Jesus tries to explain to them that he has been filled already with spiritual food, but they do not understand, assuming that perhaps he’s saying that someone else has brought him something to eat. Again, contrast this with the Samaritan woman. So overcome with joy is she by the “living water” that Jesus has given her, that she leaves her water jug behind (water being even more necessary for life than food), to share the word unencumbered.
In the end, it is the Samaritan woman who is vindicated. While the disciples were busying themselves with image and anxious acquisition, the woman was leading many to Christ. Food, water, and social concerns — they are good things that make up the creaturely life God gives us. But the life of God is the keystone of all else — it is what makes matter “matter.” When those get out of order, our spiritual life is hindered.
Our surrounding culture today is obsessed with maintaining an image of social perfection as well as the anxious acquisition of material things. What water jars do we need to be willing to leave behind, what public scandal do we need to be willing to endure, in order to bring people to Jesus?
James Cornwell lives and teaches in the Hudson Valley with his wife Sarah and their seven children.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
The Diocese of Kaduna – The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion)
Christ Church Episcopal, Tulsa, Okla.