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Week 3 Commentary: John 4:5-42
By this point in John’s Gospel, Jesus has already done the unexpected, having turned water into wine in John 2 and causing faith leaders to scratch their heads in John 3. In John 4, Jesus continues to surprise us, this time defying social, political, and religious boundaries.
Jesus moves from familiar territory and company in John 3 to the unfamiliar, enemy territory of Samaria in John 4. Samaritans were people whom Jesus’s Jewish contemporaries considered outsiders and enemies. The hatred of Samaritans had taken root more than 500 years prior to Jesus’s time, when Samaritans had built a shrine on Mt. Gerizim and claimed this shrine to be the proper place of worship, as opposed to the Temple of Jerusalem, favored by the Jewish people of Jesus’s time. The woman whom Jesus engages in conversation at the well was a Samaritan. 
The Samaritan woman’s response of exasperation to Jesus initiating conversation with her resonates with what would have been expected. When Jesus enters Samaria and approaches the well to speak to the woman, he crosses multiple boundaries. First, he crosses the literal boundary separating Judea from Samaria. Second, Jesus breaches the social boundary that prevented Jews from engaging with Samaritans. Finally, Jesus violates the social convention of Jewish men not initiating conversation with unknown women.
In verse 10, Jesus further perplexes the Samaritan woman by speaking of gathering living water without a bucket. Here, living water has a double meaning. It refers to the fresh, running water in the well. For Jesus, living water is water that gives life. Jesus’s point is that the water offered from God through him is water that gives life such that those who receive it will never thirst again. 
As Jesus and the Samaritan woman continue their conversation, the woman declares Jesus as a prophet, and Jesus responds by saying “I am”--that is, Jesus takes the name of God for himself, revealing him to be God in the flesh.
The woman then returns to town to tell other Samaritans about her experience of Jesus, to invite them to experience Jesus for themselves, and to wonder aloud and in public if Jesus could be the Messiah. Her witness brings the Samaritan townspeople into the community of Jesus’s followers. It was the labor of this woman that brought living water to several people.
Not only does this story demonstrate that Jesus came to bring living water to outsiders—to people like this Samaritan woman—but it also reveals that we can find the living water of Jesus in the very people on the other side of the boundaries we construct. While our twenty-first century experience may not resonate with the construction of boundaries based on our understanding of the proper places of worship, we can relate with other sorts of human-made boundaries that keep thirsty people from Jesus’s living water. As the church—that is, as people committed to letting the living water of Jesus flow—we are called to follow Jesus across these boundaries rather than create them.
This story invites us to ask important questions about our own experience of Jesus and our call both to see Jesus in the outsider and to cross boundaries so that others’ thirsts would be quenched by the living water Jesus provides.
 
Consider the following questions:
What living water are you thirsty for?
When you consider the most vulnerable person in your life or that you know of, what might living water look like for them?
What boundaries must be breached in order to let this living water flow?
-Rev. Elizabeth L. Evans

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