"Come and See": A Web Commentary on the Gospel of John: Section 4 Jesus in Samaria: The Living Water

Section 4.3: The Disciples Return and the Woman Leaver (Jn 4.27-38)


The arrival of the disciples from their shopping in the city broke up the conversation between Jesus and the woman. The presence of others destroyed the fragile atmosphere of intimacy that had allowed both participants to speak and to hear as they had. Although the disciples said nothing, their disapproval must have been palpable, and it is no wonder that the woman left, to return to the city. Another naturalistic detail is that when she left, she did not take her water jar (v28), whether we take this as a courtesy to Jesus in providing him the means to draw water or as an indication of her hurry to leave the scene and return home. We should not read too much into this water jar, making it the vehicle of allegory or symbolism, as Carson points out (Carson 1991 pp 227-8). In fact in Brown 1966 p 173, Brown argues against seeking any practical reason for leaving the jar!

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In speaking to her neighbours, the woman overcame the social isolation we have inferred from her actions and Jesus' words about her marital history. In fact she was eager to relate her encounter with Jesus although in v29 she expressed less conviction about his identity than we would have expected given the concluding verses of her conversation with Jesus. Perhaps she knew the best way to pique their curiosity was not to appear too certain about the extraordinary news that she bore.

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Just as Nicodemus did in ch 3 or the woman did at the start of her conversation, the disciples misunderstand what Jesus was talking about when he spoke of his food, about which they do not know, being to do the will of the one who sent him. That misunderstanding itself arises from their failure to ask the right question (or indeed any questions at all) when they rejoin Jesus and find him talking to a strange woman. The rest of the conversation, full of images of reaping and ripeness and of sowing and planting, makes clear what the food is: it is to bring men and women to relationship with God through trust in himself as Messiah and Word. But if they had asked either of the two questions that they thought about on their return, they would have discovered the key to the conversation. The people of the Samaritan city are indeed a field white for the harvest and the woman is about to experience the joy of the reaper. The disciples are also dispatched like her into fields where they did not sow, but will reap, and this field could have been one of them had their points of view been more aligned with Jesus'.

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