Gospel of John 4:28 – Are You Still Holding Onto Your Water Jar

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In John 4 there is a woman who had been coming at noon to draw water by herself in the heat of the day. It could be she came at the hottest hour of the day to avoid the shame she faced from her community over her “living situation.” She has been married five times (Jewish custom would only allow three) and is now with her live in boyfriend. Not only that but she is a Samaritan, the descendant of Jewish sell outs and those who intermarried with the surrounding nations. On top of that she is a she, and Jewish tradition said that any Samaritan woman was unclean because they were supposedly perpetually on their cycle. Not really the moral and ethical exemplar the town of Sychar would send in a delegation to meet with the Messiah.

With so many strikes against her Jesus comes into her world but invites her to come into his. He asks her for water but then offers her another kind of water, the living kind. In just a few short verses this uneducated, adulterous, Samaritan woman gets what Nicodemus, the Pharisee and teacher of the law, wrestled with in the previous chapter. When she figured out Jesus was the Messiah she left to go tell others. What is telling is she left her water jar behind (John 4:28). Why? She didn’t need it any more because she now realized there was something better for her. In 4:15 she asked for living water so she wouldn’t have to keep coming out to draw water anymore. When she received it, she didn’t need that old jar anymore…she didn’t need what had become obsolete. I think John pointed out that small detail for a reason and that reason was to show that when Jesus reveals himself to us there are certain things that have to be left behind because they no longer have a purpose in the life of a Christian. Why else note such an “insignificant detail”?

It seems that she got it. It was not that she thought she would never need another drop of water to drink. It was that she realized there were more important things in life than wells and water jars and she just had to tell someone, anyone about it. In going into that city she threw aside all the social stigma and alienation she had faced because she had something they needed. It leaves us with the question, “What water jars are you still carrying around?” It is very tempting in this life to hold onto water jars, those things that seem to sustain us and that we certainly feel we couldn’t live without. Maybe there are things we have relied on more than God and maybe it is time to let go of our water jars, as scary as that may be, and embrace the living water that will enable us to never again need those old, worn out water jars ever again.

4 Responses

  1. I learned something new about the Samaritan woman today! Would you be able to give me some references to where you found the information about what Jewish tradition said of Samaritan women? The story definitely comes more alive with that extra info.

    1. Try Raymond Brown’s commentary in the Anchor Bible Commentary Series. There are two volumes on the Gospel of John and this would be in volume one. It is an excellent commentary for bits of pieces of background like that.

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