JOHN 4 V1-42


In the academic world, they use the word “paradigm” to describe a belief system that a person, group, organisation or society has developed over time and which determines the thinking and actions of that person or group. Tradition often plays an important role in the formation of such paradigms.
All of us operates according to such paradigms or belief systems. They give us the necessary glasses to see through to evaluate things or situations and make our conclusions. Our paradigms create certain boundaries around our thinking and also play a role in how we think about ourselves – how we see our own identity and our vision of the world. It is like the shell of an egg, which protects the contents of an egg.
Although we all use such paradigms and they influence us, we are creative beings and also have the option to live investigative lives. This means we are open to becoming aware of our own paradigms and those of others and that we can connect these systems with each other. It also means that we can change our paradigms of thinking – or become critical of our own.

The challenges we face are that we should not be blinded by our own paradigms or be insensitive to what is happening in the larger world. So, our paradigms can shift, and we can rewrite our life story and those of our communities from a new perspective. The shell of an egg must crack, break open to allow a chicken to be hatched. We all know what happens to an eggshell that does not break when it should. True leaders should help us, to be able see beyond our paradigms. Our leaders should help us to break open, but it is very easy even for leaders – in the church, politics, community, and sport, or teachers, scientists, etc, to become so blinded by their own paradigms that they also cannot help us. Becoming stuck in paradigms is constantly with us. We hear it when people, especially leaders, say things like:
• “This is the way we have always done things around here”.
• “Just wait until you have reached my age, then you will know better.”
• “You just come and confuse us.”
One of the core tasks of religion is transformation and change (Bezuidenhout 2015:84-86). True religion should help us to change, to change our hearts and our minds, Jesus even spoke of something totally new, of a “new creation” (2 Cor 5:17). There are several examples in the gospels of Jesus that challenge existing thinking at the time and where paradigm shifts took place. Jesus’ crucifixion was eventually orchestrated by people who were stuck in their paradigms. His understanding of love for others is radically different (Joh 13:34); He challenged the existing understanding of forgiveness (Mat 18:21-35); He had a different understanding of the laws regarding food (Mark 7:14-23) and the washing of hands (Mat 15:1-9). Jesus even challenged the views on prayer (Mat 6:5-18) and the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-28).

The point is that Jesus, in terms of our language today, was someone we would call an “out of the box” thinker. His understanding of the kingdom of God was not as something that is static, but rather of God in action. Our text for today (Luke 4) is about another example of Jesus challenging the existing paradigms of thinking:
John 4 (NIV)
1 Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— 2 although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. 3 So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.
4 Now he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.
7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?”8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.#9 Or do not use dishes Samaritans have used)
10Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” 11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” 17 “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband.18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
21 “Woman,”Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.22You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.23Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.24God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” 26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”
27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”
28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.
31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32B ut he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”
33 Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?” 34 “My food, ”said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.35 Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.36 Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together.37 Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true.38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”
39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers. 42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”
What is interesting, but not part of our focus today, is the tension that was developing in Judea around the ministry of Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees were apparently not happy with the growth in followers of John the Baptist and Jesus.
Jesus and his disciples decided to go to Galilee, which was in the Northern part. Because of the tension between the Jews and the Samaritans – who lived between Judea in the South and Galilea in the North – most Jewish travellers usually took a longer route, one running between the South and the North. The longer route was to the East of Jerusalem and the river Jordan. But Jesus and his disciples decided to go through Samaria. This was an unusual decision for a group of Jewish people to take. Our text does not give us a reason for this decision.
It is interesting. Jesus moved away from the tension in Judea with the Pharisees, but chose a route through a politically dangerous and unsafe zone.
At the time, most of the routes passed by wells or waterholes. Around 12 o’clock they reached a waterhole or fountain near the town of Sychar. Jesus was tired and decided to stay at the well while his disciples went to Sychar to buy food. The rest of the narrative takes place at this well. The end result was that Jesus stayed in the town for two days.
The conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman who came to draw water at the well is the longest written text in the NT between Jesus and anyone.
Our text describes Jesus crossing several boundaries in his conversation with the Samaritan women. An alternative story developed. The Samaritan woman, unlike other individuals who speak with Jesus in the Gospel of John, is never named. Some interpreters see this as proof that the narrative is much more symbolic and that she symbolises Samaria itself.
The animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans were 700 years old by then. In 722 BC the Assyrian Empire had conquered the city of Samaria. Many citizens were deported and went into exile. But Israelites who stayed behind intermarried with Assyrians and people of other nations. Conflict developed between those living in this area and those elsewhere, who regarded themselves as being more purely Jewish. The conflict went much deeper than race. Especially, there was the question of which was the most holy place, Jerusalem or the temple on Mount Gerizim; as well as the fact that the Samaritans only accepted the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses, and not the rest of the books in the Torah, such as the Prophets. They also believed that Moses would return as a restorer (akin to Messiah). Some Jews regarded the Samaritans not as gentiles, but as schismatic and dangerous.
It was also not acceptable for a man to speak to a woman in a public space. Apparently, a Rabbi was not allowed to speak to even his own wife or daughters in public. This is how seriously this rule was administered.

The plot thickens further. This Samaritan woman was living with a man, and had already had five husbands previously. Exactly what this means is not clear. Unless Samaritan law was very different from Jewish law, and their culture likewise radically different, it could not possibly mean that the woman had divorced five men, because women could not initiate divorce in Judaism, or in this patriarchal cultural context. The general thinking is that a woman who had been divorced by a couple of husbands was unlikely to be taken as the wife of yet another man. Another option is that the woman has been widowed multiple times. All we can say is that her marriage status is of some significance. Some have even interpreted it as being that she could have been looking for another husband at the well. This well is not just any well – it is the same well where Jacob met his first wife, Rachel, in Gen 29.
Jesus’ willingness to start a conversation with the nameless Samaritan woman is clearly a paradigm shift in the context of that time.
27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”
Jesus’ ability to cross boundaries, to move beyond what was acceptable in culture and religious traditions, opened the conversation with this woman. His openness made it possible to speak about living water and eternal life (4:12); and about a future life of worshipping God in Spirit and truth (4:14). Jesus also made use of the opportunity to speak to his disciples about true bread (4:34), doing the will of God and understanding the kingdom of God (4:36-38). Eventually, the town where the woman came from became inspired by the message of Jesus and its people turned into believers (4:39-42).
“And because of his words many more became believers” (4:41).
A second point, which deserves a sermon on its own, is how Jesus dealt with the vulnerability of this unnamed woman and actually empowered her.
28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.
We, and the faith community, are challenged by this into realising how dangerous it is when we keep the gospel locked into traditions, or become stuck in the church and do not see the possibility of the dynamic kingdom of God. We are challenged to allow the gospel to challenge our paradigms of church, world and culture.
A recent article by Dr Coenie Burger about Calvin’s congregational ecclesiology – how Calvin thinks about the role of the congregation – is relevant to our discussion. Calvin believed that the ministry in the congregation is more fundamental than the way the church is structured or organised. We are faced with the danger of what Burger calls a “low ecclesiology” – where the church becomes our property and creation, where the church comes to exist as an end in herself and defines herself most of the time in terms of polity (church orders), rather than the church being the dynamic connection between Christ and his body.

We all know that the congregation of Die Hoogtes faces many challenges, of which its finances are only one. We know you face many societal problems daily – poverty, unemployment, drugs, alcohol dependency, to name only a few. We acknowledge that you are also deeply hurt by what happened in the past, relating to the disappearance of money, and I suspect there is a deep distrust regarding the church structures. But the danger would be to direct all your energy inward, to sustain yourself, rather than outward – towards a greater world.

I know that the Rev van Zijl is a person of integrity, but also that he is a person who can think out of the box. I call on this church council and congregation to work with him in order to take on the challenges you face. Be willing to think out of the box. You are challenged to look at the present paradigms critically, and then to allow these paradigms to shift were necessary. You are encouraged to live with the knowledge that it is possible to write new and different stories about yourself and your congregation. The dynamic Spirit of the risen Lord will accompany you on this journey.

Frederik B O Nel (VDM)
July, 9th 2017

Bezuidenhout, Ronell 2015. Woestynwysheid. Ervaar God opnuut. Wellington: Lux Verbi
Burger, Coenie 2011. The church we could be – What churches can learn from Calvin’s congregational ecclesiology. In Hansen, Len; Koopman, Nico & Vosloo, Robert (eds). Living Theology. Essays presented to Dirk J Smith on his sixtieth birthday. Wellington: Bible Media,361-375
Groenewald, EP 1980. Die Evangelie van Johannes. Kaapstad: NG Kerk-Uitgewers
Craddock, Fred B, Hayes, John H, Holladay, Carl R & Tucker, Gene M 1992 (eds). Preaching through the Christian Year, Year A. Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 166-167
McGrath, James F. “Woman at the Well”, n.p. [cited 5 Jul 2017]. Online:
Morris, Leon 1971. The Gospel according to John. Grand Rapids: WM.B. Eerdmans
Neethling, Kobus, Stander, Hennie & Rutherford, Raché (eds). 2000. Dink soos Jesus. Die kreatiewe oplos van probleme en die skep van geleenthede in die 21ste eeu. Vanderbijlpark: Carpe Diem
The New Bible Dictionary 1962. Inter-Varsity Press.
Van Wyk, Chris, Marais, Frederick & Nico Simpson 2009. Die vrou by die put. Wellington: Bybel-Media
Vosloo, Wil & Van Rensburg, Fika J (eds). 1999. Die Bybellennium Eenvolumekommentaar. Vereeniging: CUM, 1329-1331

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