The Gospel of John by William R. Cannon
Before his election to the episcopacy in 1968 United Methodist Bishop William R. Cannon served as Professor of Church History and then Dean of Chandler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta. Other books by Bishop Cannon include The Gospel Of John, Jesus The Servant, and The Book Of Acts. The Gospel of John was published by The Upper Room, 1985. This book was prepared for Religion Online by Paul Mobley.
Chapter 2: The Incarnate Word
In this first section of section of the Gospel after the prologue, the Apostle John displays the Word in a series of incidents and encounters that Jesus had at the outset of his ministry. By the incarnation, God reveals his purpose. The divine Word is spoken through the calling of the first disciples, in Jesus' manifestation of his own nature at Cana, and especially in the all-inclusiveness of his message as he proclaims it to the Jews, the Samaritans, and the gentiles.
The Herald and the Disciples (1:15-51)
Though John the Baptist is introduced as the herald of the Word in the prologue itself (1:6-7), who John was and the manner in which he performed are presented immediately following the prologue in a separate section of the Gospel. Here the emphasis is on witness. And the center of attention is John the Baptist, who was the herald, the first witness, to the incarnate Word.
The descriptive label, "the Baptist," which is now invariably attached to John the forerunner of Jesus. arises from the fact that John baptized Jesus in the River Jordan and thereby inaugurated him for his mission. But this title is an imposition on the herald as he is presented in the Fourth Gospel. Though Matthew and Mark both describe the baptism of Jesus by John (Matt .3:13-l 7; Mark 1 :9-11) and though Luke omits the description but nonetheless implies the event ( Luke 3:21), the author of the Fourth Gospel does neither. From reading John, one would never know that Jesus had been baptized at all.
Indeed, the herald's own work, as a baptizer of others who came to him on the banks of the Jordan, is almost unnoticed in this Gospel. It is mentioned only incidentally and by critics who ask him what right he has to baptize (1:25). The Baptist's reply is casual and to the point of being almost self-degrading and ultimately unimportant. For he says, "I just use water. That is all. Maybe it does some good. But real baptism is yet to come. My main mission is something else. I am here to point out another much greater than myself and whose work will be far superior to mine" (1:26-27, AP).
The truth of the matter is that we would not be able to know what it was John the Baptist was doing on the banks of the Jordan before he announced the Word if it were not for the synoptic Gospels. We would be mystified as to his activity and bewildered as to why the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to observe him and to inquire about his mission (1:19). It is from the synoptics that we learn that he preached judgment and repentance and that he baptized ones who confessed their sins. John omits all this. Evidently, he presupposes on the part of his readers a knowledge of the first three Gospels. His one concern is to announce the presence of the incarnate Word. He is indifferent to anything else.
Although Matthew and Mark describe the Baptist in a fierce and rugged manner, clothed in camel's hair and with a belt of skin, eating locusts and wild honey, John does not describe him at all. Even though the authors of the first two Gospels picture him as if he were Elijah come back to earth again. the author of the Fourth Gospel reports that the Baptist disclaims any connection with Elijah (1:21).
The herald is content to be only a herald. John the Baptist does not want to get in the way of what he is commissioned to do. He does not want the sign to obstruct that to which it points. The synoptics stress baptism, even to the point that Jesus submitted to it, though he was without sin and really did not need it. He submitted to baptism in order to set a good example for others and to impress upon them that they should accept baptism and repentance for the remission of their sins. Indeed, that is what Matthew, Mark, and Luke imply in their accounts of the baptism of Jesus. But John has a higher and wider vision. The act of baptism is incidental to what should take place through baptism. True baptism is not just the sprinkling with, dipping in, or pouring on water. True baptism is the infusion of the Holy Spirit. John points away from the mechanical act of baptism to the incarnate Word of God, who alone can baptize the believer with his own spirit and infuse into him or her the power of everlasting life. "And of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace" (1:16).
Jesus Christ supersedes Moses, who, as God's lawgiver, could only issue commands and prohibitions, so that the burden of responsibility lay on the people to obey his edicts. Jesus Christ brought grace, the undeserved mercy of God, and truth, the living Word of God, which not only showed people what righteousness is but also provided them with the means of attaining it. What was once an ominous obligation is now a joyous privilege. Frightful responsibility has been replaced by creative opportunity (1:17).
The Baptist freely admits that he whom he announces stands before him in time as well as honor (1:15). Jesus Christ comes from "the bosom of the Father'" (1:18), that is, he possesses God's heart as well as his mind. Since no one has ever seen God, we are dependent entirely upon his only begotten son for our knowledge and understanding of him. All the herald can do is prepare the way for Christ's coming and point him out when he arrives (1:23, 29). The contrast between the forerunner and his Lord is so great that John the Baptist feels unworthy to unlace the sandals on Jesus' feet (1:27). This was a task performed by a household slave. John in relationship to Jesus is less than a slave in relationship to his owner. Such is the Baptist's estimate of himself as given in his response to the inquiry of the Pharisees from Jerusalem.
This dialogue between John the Baptist and these Jewish emissaries took place on one day. The author of the Fourth Gospel is the only one of the Gospel writers to give the exact location of John's baptism, namely "Bethabara" (1:28), on the east side of the Jordan River, which today is in Jordan near the Dead Sea. This was a definite site in the wilderness of Judea.
The next day Jesus made his appearance, and John the Baptist recognized him and pointed him out to the crowd gathered on the banks of the river. Though John and Jesus were cousins, John had possibly never seen Jesus before. As Jesus arrived, John saw a dove fly down from heaven and light upon him and remain on him. He knew this to symbolize the descent of the Holy Spirit, God's identification of his only begotten son (1:31-34). This enabled John to make the dramatic announcement: "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (1:29).
This announcement is the sum and substance of the Baptist's mission, the very reason for his life. It is also a precis of Jesus' own ministry of redemption. It brings to glorious fulfillment all the promises of the Old Testament. Here in Jesus is the paschal lamb of the Passover in Egypt, when the firstborn of the Jews were spared and those of the Egyptians killed (Exod. 12). Here is the goat of the atonement sent away into the wilderness with the sins of the Jewish people upon him (Lev. 16:21 ff). Here is the sacrificial lamb offered daily on the altar of the Temple. Here is the lamb as the suffering servant (see Isa. 53:7), who is a substitute for the transgressions of God's people. Here is also the new covenant in Christ's blood, by which all humanity can be redeemed and which gives to the world the conquering lamb who is victorious over all evil and is the ruler of God's people. This is John's announcement of the Messiah.
On the third day in the same place, John pointed Jesus out, as he walked through the crowd, to two of his own disciples, who heard him speak and were so fascinated by him that they walked behind him after he had finished his discourse and was leaving the people. Jesus noticed them, stopped, and asked them what they wanted. Embarrassed, they replied, "Teacher, where do you live?"
"Why don't you come and see?" Jesus said smiling. The two accepted his invitation. The time was four o'clock in the afternoon, the tenth hour of the Hebrew day, which ended at sunset. Presumably they spent the night with him. One of them was Andrew, who gave his impression of Jesus to his
brother Simon; and Simon went with him to see Andrew's new master. The author of the Fourth Gospel tells us that immediately on seeing Simon, Jesus gave him the nickname "Cephas" or "Peter", which means "stone" or "rock" (1:42). This encounter of Peter with Jesus had to happen on the fourth day, since there would not have been time enough between four o'clock and sunset for Andrew to go for his brother and bring him back to Jesus.
Thus it was on the fourth day that Jesus left the wilderness of Judea and went back home into Galilee. There he found Philip, a fellow townsman of Andrew and Peter, from Bethsaida, which is near Capernaum on the banks of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus said to Philip, "Follow me," and he did. Then Philip told his brother Nathanael about Jesus, saying that he and their friends, Andrew and Simon, had found him about whom Moses and the prophets had written, and that he was Jesus, the son of Joseph of Nazareth. Nathanael skeptically replied, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" Nazareth was so inconsequential a place that it had not been mentioned in the Hebrew Bible.
"Well, at least come and meet him," Philip said. "Then you will see for yourself."
And indeed Nathanael did see. He was amazed when Jesus told him that before Philip reached him, Jesus had seen Nathanael clearly sitting under a fig tree. This was all the skeptic needed to be convinced. He believed and became a disciple. Jesus said, "Nathanel, it did not take much to convince you. You haven't seen anything yet. There will come a time when you will see the heavens open and angels ascending and descending on me." In the imagery of Jacob's dream, Jesus implied that he himself was the ladder to heaven.
This, as given in the Gospel of John, is the manner in which the first five disciples were chosen, yet we know the names of only four of them: Andrew, Simon (Peter), Philip, and Nathanael. Who was that unidentified disciple who with Andrew first followed Jesus? No doubt, it was John himself. The author of the Fourth Gospel was too modest to write his own name.
These first five were all Galileans. Three of them, however, were chosen in Judea either at or near the site of John the Baptist's mission. Two were chosen in Galilee itself. We know four of them came from Bethsaida, and probably the fifth did as well. They were all friends of one another. There is no question but that they had all been disciples of John the Baptist; so they had been prepared in advance by the herald for him of whom the herald spoke. This means that before the Messiah could begin his messianic mission, he had to have disciples to help him perform it. Just as in the beginning, the utterance of God's Word made the universe and its inhabitants; so now the sending of God's Word to earth immediately made disciples. The Word spoken is also the Word heard. At least five persons besides John the Baptist believed.
The First Miracle and the First Confrontation with the Jews (2:1-25)
Although the three synoptics follow the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist with his temptation by the devil, John follows the acknowledgement of Jesus by the Baptist and the selection of the first disciples with the performance of his first miracle at Cana of Galilee. Indeed, John does not report the temptation at all. The first three Gospels emphasize the humanity of Jesus. The Fourth Gospel declares his divinity. It was there in the Galilean village of Cana that Jesus first "manifested forth his glory" (2:11). There the incarnate Word publicly expressed the power of deity.
According to John, three days after the conversation with Nathanael, Jesus and his disciples accepted an invitation to the wedding of a friend. Though John recounts the calling of only five of the disciples, probably the other seven had been constituted as well. The evangelist chose to deal selectively with the event, focusing attention on those of Bethsaida alone, simply because they had been friends of John the Baptist before any of them met Jesus. Chances are, all twelve disciples were with Jesus at the wedding. Otherwise, John would have said that Jesus went to Cana with some or a few of his disciples. By saying "the disciples," he implies that all of them accompanied him to the wedding. They were there because of Jesus. And Jesus was there because of his mother.
Certainly he was reluctant to perform a miracle. The wedding was hardly the place to do what he did. And what he did seems inconsequential in comparison with his power and the divine glory that power displayed. Think of the inestimable human need about him. Think of all the wrongs crying to be righted, all the pain needing relief, all the illnesses requiring cures, all the evil that ought to be conquered and destroyed, all the sins that should be forgiven and obliterated, even life itself struggling against death and needing his divine intervention to survive. But all he did was turn water into wine. He, thereby, relieved the embarrassment of a host who had run out of refreshments for his guests. Why would Jesus perform a miracle to satisfy the thirst for wine of guests who may have had too much to drink already? Even the place where the miracle was performed was restricted and circumscribed, even segregated, if we may use that word without implying racial discrimination. What place is more private than a wedding? People come there only by invitation, and the general public is excluded.
Nonetheless, Jesus performed this miracle. And it was the first one that he did perform. Why? Because sickness, injury, pain, poverty, and dissatisfaction are the exceptions to life, not its general characteristics. Jesus would deal with all those in due time. Evil, taught Augustine, is the deprivation of good. There could be no evil if first there were no good. It is a serious mistake to limit the Gospel to the poor, the underprivileged, and the dispossessed. The religion of Jesus Christ is for everybody. So the first miracle was performed for those who from a superficial point of view did not need a miracle. They would have been just as well off without the wine as with it. But they expected it, and Jesus saw to it that their expectations were not disappointed.
God is not someone we call on to help us only when we can't help ourselves. The wine was something people could provide for themselves. It was either the short-sightedness of the host or the inordinate appetite of the guests that caused the shortage at the wedding. Bonhoeffer correctly observed that if God's purpose in our lives is merely to give us what we cannot get elsewhere, then as technology improves and science discovers more and more, our need for God will decrease proportionately. In this regard, the secular is always encroaching on the sacred.
But Jesus teaches a deeper lesson through this miracle that God is present in every aspect of life. He intensifies our joy and excitement in the pleasant experiences of life, as well as comforts and sustains us in times of distress and grief. The first miracle took place at a party, not in either the synagogue or the Temple.
It is interesting to observe that Jesus used the six waterpots Jews used for washing their arms and purifying themselves before a feast. In other words, he took sacred objects to provide people with secular pleasure. But then, he knew, and he wanted others to realize, that the sacred exists for the secular, that religion is charged to provide its devotees every day with the fullness of life.
In the Jewish society of the first century, the ruler of the feast was one of the guests chosen from among all those invited to the wedding to be the toastmaster and to express well wishes to the nuptial pair. The toastmaster was surprised that the best wine was served last. Ordinarily, the good wine came first. Later on, as the guests indulged themselves, they would become less aware of the inferior quality of what they were drinking. But due to the miracle, the best wine came last. So in life, the quality of our living is constantly enhanced and made more satisfying by every new experience we have with God. The more conscious we become of God's presence, the more we realize the joy and fulfillment of being alive. This first miracle teaches us that happiness is the purpose of God for everybody, but happiness that is genuine and enduring cannot be had except from the hands of God.. We cannot give it to ourselves.
After only an interval of a few days with his mother and brothers in Capernaum, Jesus and his disciples went to Jerusalem to keep the feast of the Passover. Though both John and the synoptics have Jesus begin his ministry in Galilee, John's presentation of the master's stay in Galilee is brief. The synoptics indicate that the greater part of our Lord's ministry was spent in Galilee and only the last week of it in Jerusalem. John, in contrast, has Jesus going back and forth from the capital to his home province of Galilee.
Likewise, the synoptics place the cleansing of the Temple during Holy Week after Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, while John puts it on the Passover following Jesus' first miracle in Cana. This is because all four evangelists arrange incidents topically rather than chronologically. The placing suits the theological emphasis each is attempting to make.
There are more details in the Johannine account of the cleansing than in any of the synoptics. John describes the whip or "scourge" Jesus used to drive out the money-changers and the merchants (2:15). It was a whip made of cords, such as was used to drive cattle in that day. John tells us that the merchants were selling "oxen and sheep" as well as pigeons (2:14). Like the synoptics, John recalls Jesus' protest against making God's house a market for trade. The disciples recall one of the messianic psalms, where it is written: "Zeal for thy house will consume me (2:17, RSV; also Psalm 69:9).
But the similarity between John's account and the accounts of the synoptics stops at this point. John focuses on the conversation between Jesus and the Jews. In John, the Jews are interested only in a sign, some divine corroboration for Jesus actions. Could he demonstrate the legitimacy for his actions by performing a miracle'? In other words, they are not indignant over his driving out the merchants and money-changers. Even they perhaps are doubtful that it is proper to conduct such business in God's house. But they want to be sure, and the only way they can be sure that Jesus is doing what ought to be done is for him to convince them with a miracle. And Jesus does not dispute their right to make this claim on him. He is willing for his act to be subject to verification. But he puts the verification for what he has done in the future. "Tear the Temple down," he says, "and I will rebuild it in three days" (2:19, AP).
This is incredible. The Temple at that time was still unfinished, and Herod and his followers had been working on it for forty-six years. But Jesus did not mean Herod's Temple. He meant the temple of his own body. Without the Jews' knowing it, he had struck at the roots of their religion. God's temple is the devout and sincere worshiper, not a building made by hands. Jesus had driven out the money-changers, because God does not demand Jewish currency for the purchase of his sacrifice. Foreign coins were unacceptable in Temple worship. Proselytes and Jews from abroad had to exchange the valuable Roman currency into the cheap currency of the province before they could buy a sacrifice to offer God. But then God did not, in Jesus' opinion, want any ceremonial sacrifice anyway. He wanted the heart and life of the worshiper. Worship is not just for the Jews. Worship is for anyone who believes. Jesus thought it was wrong to exclude the gentiles from the inner court of the Temple. God's house shall be a house for all nations, yet if gentiles went beyond the Court of the Gentiles, the Jews would put them to death.
Jesus performed miracles in Jerusalem. As a result, many believed. Yet our Lord took no satisfaction from human testimony in his favor. He knew human nature, and he realized how fickle it is (2:23-25). His confidence was in himself.
Jesus' confidence was in himself, and in himself alone, because he knew that he was the manifestation of the Father. As God's Incarnate Word, his first obligation was to manifest himself to his own people, that is, to speak God's word to the Jews. The author of the Fourth Gospel depicts Jesus' doing this in his conversation with Nicodemus (3:1-21); and he confirms the validity of Jesus' action in his account of the last testimony of John the Baptist to the mission of Jesus (3:22-36). Our Lord told Nicodemus what the Jews must believe in order to be saved (3:18). And John the Baptist testifies that God sent Jesus, and. therefore, whatever Jesus says is a message brought directly from God (3:34).
Nicodemus is identified as a ruler of the Jews. This means that since he was a Jew and not a Roman, he was an active member of the Sanhedrin, the governing body of Jewry under the Roman procurator. The policy of Rome was to allow the peoples of its conquered provinces a certain measure of local autonomy. Rome did not destroy national institutions and traditions but rather employed them to its own imperial purposes and designs. The Sanhedrin was a body of priests and scribes presided over by the high priest. Since Israel and Judah had always been theocratic states with God as their supreme ruler, the priests even under the monarchy had exercised great power in the kingdom. After the exile, when there were no kings, their power had increased. Indeed, during the period of Hasmonean independence, the priests had been the titled rulers of the land. Therefore Rome permitted the Sanhedrin to make most decisions. This saved her the bother of constant adjudication among a naturally quarrelsome and disgruntled people. In the Jewish mind, there was no distinction between the secular and the sacred anyway; so every decision the Sanhedrin made was ultimately a religious one. Nicodemus was a worthy member of that august body.
Oddly enough, this Jew has a Greek name, indicating a Hellenistic background. His family must have been of the diaspora, that is, Jews who lived abroad and only occasionally came back to the homeland to observe the Feast of the Passover. But Nicodemus himself resided permanently in Jerusalem, else he could not have been a member of the Sanhedrin. Herod the Great, in order to gain control over the Sanhedrin, would import important personages from the diaspora and place them on the Sanhedrin. There was always fierce rivalry and antagonism between these foreign leaders and the native leaders. Perhaps Nicodemus was a Herodian implant.
His name means conqueror. This is ironic, for this one who rules others came to Jesus to seek rule over himself.
He was embarrassed to come. Here he was, a prominent and well-known teacher in Israel, seeking to be taught by another, one with no official status, a controversial figure whom Nicodemus's own colleagues had come to despise. Yet what he had heard about Jesus had led Nicodemus to him. He came by night in order to escape detection. He admitted Jesus had come from God, or else he would not have been able to do what he was doing.
Jesus told Nicodemus that he had to be born again. As his mother had once given him physical birth, so now God must give him spiritual birth. Like the wind, this new birth appears to one out of nowhere. It takes its own direction. One cannot detect its antecedents, nor can one predict its future outcome. The new birth is the endowment of and empowerment by the Holy Spirit. All the teachings of Israel, personified by Nicodemus, are not capable of comprehending the meaning and import of the new birth (3:10).
Indeed, that is why Jesus was at that time where he was, namely to disclose to his people who live on earth heavenly things. These can be disclosed only by one who has already been in God's presence and heard those words himself. Nicodemus cannot give himself a new birth. He is correct in assuming that he cannot enter into his mother's womb a second time. He must personally believe on Jesus and accept in his heart the truth of his message. That message is simply this: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (3:16). That is the essence of the gospel. That is the Word spoken by God in Jesus for all humankind to hear.
The lessons Jesus teaches through his conversation with Nicodemus are:
I. Every person must experience a spiritual birth comparable to his or her physical birth. There must come a time in a person's life when that person surrenders the control of himself or herself entirety to God. Self-control is displaced by divine control. Jesus Christ himself becomes the author of the surrendered person’s new existence.
2. Likewise, the Jewish religion of which Nicodemus was an exemplary teacher requires fulfillment and perfection in Jesus Christ, who is the Messiah it has always foretold.
3. The new birth in Jesus Christ is not offered only to the Jews, but to people all over the world. The Jews are not alone God's chosen people. It is the will of God that all the world should be saved. Thus a Jew with a Greek name furnishes Jesus the occasion to proclaim that he is the Savior of Jew and Greek alike, indeed of the whole world.
4. The mission of Jesus is positive. He does not come as a judge to condemn but as a redeemer with the power to reclaim and transform (3:17).
5. However, for this redemption and reclamation to take place, people must be willing to accept him as truth and light, as the very Word of the Father in its final and perfect form (3:21).
God's Word spoken to the Jews is that ancestry and race, law and tradition are not enough. Exclusiveness has no place in the divine economy. Segregation is an anachronism. Salvation comes now not just to them but to them along with everybody else through Jesus Christ.
In John 3:25-30, John the Baptist confirmed the message Jesus had delivered from God to his own people. He did this, not by reference to the message, but rather to the person who delivers the message. John the Baptist's testimony was always and invariably to the messenger, not what the messenger says and does. He never departed from his divinely appointed role as herald of the Messiah.
In the synoptic Gospels, it is the Baptist himself who is dubious about Jesus and sends his disciples to gain confirmation of his authenticity. In the Fourth Gospel, it is the other way around. The Baptist's disciples, after a discussion with the Jews, ask him his studied opinion of Jesus and the validity of Jesus' ministry. In response to this inquiry, John the Baptist makes the ringing and thunderous declaration: "The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand" (3:35). Then, having finished the mission God gave him to do and as if to dismiss himself from the stage of history, John the Baptist confesses: "He must increase, but I must decrease" (3:30). There is no more for the herald to say to the Jews. The full message of God is now being given to them in the person of God's own incarnate Word.
At the same time, the Word of God was also being spoken to the Samaritans, the Jews' worst enemy.
In the Fourth Gospel, the first inquiry a Jew made of Jesus came from a rabbi, learned, aristocratic, a ruler of his people; Jesus' first contact with the Samaritans was with a woman of ill repute, humble and socially unimportant, even unacceptable. She had been married five times, and the man she was now living with was not married to her. He may have had a wife and family of his own. He may have been a bachelor. But he was living with her out of wedlock.
The contrast between the two interviews is symbolic of the standing of the two races, Jewish and Samaritan. The Jews, at least in their eyes, were elitists. They were God's chosen people. The Samaritans were a mixture of races, a collection of peoples who had been herded together and returned to the land after the northern kingdom had fallen and its population deported to the land of its conqueror. The Samaritans accepted a form of the Hebrew religion. Their Bible was the Pentateuch. But they had no temple. They worshiped God on the top of Mount Gerizim.
Nicodemus, the Jew, had taken the initiative and come to Jesus. Jesus took the initiative and began conversation with this Samaritan stranger at Jacob's well at the foot of Mount Gerizim. He asked the Samaritan woman for a drink of water. This surprised her, for the Jews did not fraternize with the Samaritans. She was surprised even more, startled in fact, when Jesus said. "You should have asked me for a drink, and I would have given you living water. so that once you drink it, you would never thirst again."
"I did not ask you for a drink," she said, "because you don't even have a bucket to draw with. But where is this living water, the supply of which will do me forever? It is drudgery to come here every day to draw water from this deep well and haul it home again in a heavy jar on my head."
Jesus dropped the conversation about the water. The woman's understanding of what he had said was too materialistic and crass for him to continue this analogy. He merely said, "Bring your husband to talk to me." When she said that she had no husband, he calmly described her marital situation. This led her to realize she was talking to a prophet.
Then she tried to turn the conversation away from herself to the religious relationship between her people and the Jews. "You Jews worship God in Jerusalem," she said, "while we worship him on this mountain," pointing to Mount Gerizim.
He said, "Neither place is of any importance right now." But he reminded her that the Jews, at least, knew whom they were worshiping, while the Samaritans did not. What did he mean?
He meant that what little religion the Samaritans had they had borrowed from the Jews. To be sure, they had garbled it. Even Mount Gerizim, which was their place of worship, Moses had selected as the mountain of the blessing in contrast to its counterpart across the road, Mount Ebal, which was the mountain of the curse (Deut. 11:29; 27:12,13). "Now, however, neither Jerusalem nor Mount Gerizim holds any significance for either your people (the Samaritans)," Jesus told her, "or my people, the Jews. God can be worshiped anywhere if our heart is attuned to him and we are sincere and honest in seeking him, because God is everywhere." That is what Jesus meant when he said, "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth" (4:24).
"We will have to wait to see," the woman replied. "The Messiah will come, and he will tell us everything."
Jesus rejoined, "You won't have to wait. You have the answer now. I, to whom you are talking, am he."
The woman went to town to tell everybody everything she had heard. As she left, the disciples came, bringing food. Jesus was not hungry. He was too full of the spirit of God to want bread and meat. Harvest time could be four months off. But the harvest of souls was upon them. He wanted them to gather "fruit unto life eternal" (4:36). Though the disciples had sown no seed whatever among the Samaritans, still they had the opportunity to reap a spiritual harvest among them. It was proper for them to reap the benefits of the labors of others, if the harvest was one of human souls.
The woman brought quite a crowd from town to see Jesus. What she said about him aroused the curiosity of the people. He stayed three days. And because of what he said to them, many of them believed on him and accepted him as their Savior.
The Word of God was not exclusively for the Jews. It was for others as well, even the Jews' worst enemy, the Samaritans. No people, no matter how devout they might claim to be, can ever possess God exclusively and use God to further their own ends. No people can make God punish their enemies. They must realize that God is not just their God but the God of their enemies as well.
The Jews looked down on the Samaritans, but they were forced by political circumstances to look up to the Romans. They could avoid the Samaritans, ostracize them, segregate them, and carry on the normal affairs of life as if they did not exist. But the Jews were required every day to have dealings with the Romans, who treated them as a conquered people and managed them as a master over slaves.
The Bible student will observe in the Fourth Gospel a logical progression in God's message to all people through his son. Jesus had his first conversation with the Jews. And presumably this conversation took place in the heart of Jewry, probably in Jerusalem itself, for it was after the conversation that the fourth evangelist told us that Jesus and his disciples went out into the countryside of Judea, where John the Baptist gave his last testimony of the significance of Jesus (3:22). His second conversation, with the Samaritans, was in Samaria. Then he came to Galilee; and in Galilee, he talked with the gentiles.
Galilee was the most Hellenized of all the geographical parts of the promised land. Indeed, it was called in Jesus' time "Galilee of the Gentiles." The fourth evangelist tells us that Jesus was welcomed by the Galileans on his return from Jerusalem, for many of them had been with him at the feast in Jerusalem and had observed with appreciation and respect his behavior there. But then the evangelist reports a strange comment that Jesus himself makes, namely, that a prophet has no honor in his own country (4:44). Jesus probably did not have reference to Galilee, where he was reared, because the Galileans had received him with deference and hospitality (4:45).
The context of the statement clearly refers to where he has come from, Judea and Jerusalem, where his teaching had not been received. He is glad to have left the capital and to be back again in Galilee. Could this be the one reference in the Fourth Gospel to Jesus' birth in Bethlehem, the city of David, of the tribe of Benjamin and which gave to Judah her greatest king? If not, it means that Jesus associated citizenship with the country as a whole, not just one of its sections, and that he believed the home base of any Jewish prophet has to be in Jerusalem. This remark of his is in contrast to a similar remark he did make about Galilee in the synoptics (Mark 6:4; Matt. 13:57; Luke 4:24). This is not necessarily a contradiction. Both remarks arise out of the way Jesus is treated, and by whom, at the time he makes them. An assessment of a place can change in the light of what happens to one on any particular occasion.
An important and influential gentile, undoubtedly a Roman official, who resided in Capernaum, met Jesus in Cana and asked him to come back with him to his home to heal his son, who was desperately ill. Jesus' immediate response seemed heartless. "All you want," he said, "is to see me do some marvelous act. You won't believe me unless I perform a miracle."
The man humbly ignored the comment and the rebuke it implied. "Please, please come," he said, "or my child will die."
Jesus said, " My coming is really not necessary. Your son will not die. He will be entirely well again." The gentile took Jesus at his word. He made no further request of him.
It is important to note the difference between this contact Jesus had with the gentile and the other two with the Jew and the Samaritan. In neither of the first two contacts was there any evidence of whole-hearted acceptance of Jesus on the part of his interlocutors when the conversation began. But the gentile had heard about Jesus from others. When Jesus tested his belief by seeming to question his sincerity, the man pled with Jesus to come. Even when Jesus did not go but merely assured the man that his son would get well, the gentile accepted his word as adequate. This faith was amazing.
The Word of God did not lose its potency as it developed beyond the Old Testament. Rather it gained in effectiveness and power. Nicodemus the Jew came and found the new birth. The Samaritans asked Jesus to remain with them and help them; he tarried in Samaria three days. The Roman gentile journeyed twenty miles to find Jesus and, in finding him, had enough faith to go back alone to his home, knowing in his heart Jesus would do what he promised.
In and through God's incarnate son, the Word of the Father reached its full course. It had been spoken first to God's own chosen people, the Jews. Next, the enemies of the Jews, the Samaritans, heard it. And the gentiles, the inhabitants of the rest of the known world, received it, as well. God's Word is for all peoples. Jesus came to deliver it to the totality of humankind.
The servants of the gentile ruler met him and told him that his son's fever had subsided and the child was getting well. The father asked the time the fever had broken. He learned it was at the exact moment Jesus had told him his boy would live. "The man believed the word Jesus spoke to him" (4:50, AP).
Questions For Reflection and Study
1. What is the reason for baptism today? How do infant and adult baptism differ?
2. "The gospel can't be used to dispossess the rich." Compare this statement with Luke 4:18-19, Matthew 19:16-24 and 6:19-2 I. Do the poor seem to have a favored place with Jesus? Do they have a special place with us?
3. "Segregation is anachronism." Is your church inclusive? Or does its membership mirror only one ethnic, socioeconomic, or age group? Does its leadership mirror only one? What goals would be Christlike?
4. Do you initiate conversations about God, as Jesus did with the woman at the well? Can you think of ways to introduce the subject naturally?
5. Who are your enemies? Can you pray for them? Write a prayer for someone who dislikes you.