The return of the disciples

This passage provides a bridge between Jesus’ conversations with the woman and with his disciples (vv.31-38). The disciples’ reaction to Jesus is similar to the woman’s initial response to him (v.9): shock that Jesus would violate social conventions. Unlike the woman, However, the disciples keep their questions to themselves.

The woman makes no response to Jesus’ bold self-revelation, perhaps because of the disciples’ return. She departs from the well, leaving her water jar behind. Like much narrative detail in the Fourth Gospel (e.g., 1:37-39), the detail about the jar works on two levels simultaneously. On the level of the plot line, the abandoned water jar provides a link between the two conversations at the well. The woman’s jar will stand before Jesus and his disciples as they speak. Yet the detail also has meaning on a more theological level. The abandoned jar suggests that the woman’s concern of v.15, the desire for miraculous water, has been superseded by the revelation of Jesus’ identity.

In response to her conversation with Jesus, the woman goes into town and bears witness to what she has heard. Her witness is threefold. First, she invites her fellow townspeople to “come and see.” This invitation is crucial in the Fourth Gospel (cf. 1:37-39, 46). It is an invitation to participate in the life of faith, to experience Jesus for oneself. Second, the woman offers her own experience as the basis of her witness, which here may build on the Samaritan expectation of a teaching Messiah (cf. v.25). Third, she broaches the question of whether Jesus might be the Messiah. The translation accurately captures the tentativeness of the woman’s words. (The question begins with the negative particle (meti) in the Greek, a construction that anticipates a negative or contradicting response.) She cannot quite believe that Jesus is the Messiah, since he challenges her conventional messianic expectations (vv.23-25), but her lack of certitude does not stand in the way of her witness. The woman’s behavior stands in marked contrast to many characters in the Fourth Gospel who will insist on their own certitudes (e.g., Nicodemus, 3:9; the crowds, 6:25-34; the Pharisees, 9:24-34) and hence close themselves to what Jesus offers. The woman’s witness brings the townspeople to Jesus (v.30). Their movement toward him provides the backdrop for Jesus’ conversation with his disciples.

Image credit: Samaritan Woman at the Well,  Rudall30 | -ID 191658499 

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