90 Days with Jesus, Day 15: John 4:27-38: The Food of God
27Just 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?” 28Then, 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 Christ?” 30They came out of the town and made their way toward him. 31Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” 33Then 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. 35Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38I 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.”
“Jesus came to the fountain as a hunter…He threw a grain before one pigeon that he might catch the whole flock…At the beginning of the conversation he did not make himself known to her, but first she caught sight of a thirsty man, then a Jew, then a Rabbi, afterwards a prophet, last of all the Messiah. She tried to get the better of the thirsty man, she showed dislike of the Jew, she heckled the Rabbi, she was swept off her feet by the prophet, and she adored the Christ.”—JA Findlay, as quoted by George Beasley-Murray, John, (Word Biblical Commentary), 66
There are two stories going on at the same time in these verses. The woman is busy running back to her community to announce that she has met someone who could be the Messiah. While she is doing that, Jesus is giving his disciples another lesson in theology. Really the lessons in the verses for today are not terribly complicated, so I would like to make but a couple of observations as we prepare to close out this chapter and our week together, as we prepare to worship together on Sunday.
First, as I have noted, the most striking feature of this entire chapter, the most enduring image, the most profound observation is found in verse 28: ‘Then, leaving her water jar…’ I could get stuck on this verse all day. It is so full of meaning and grace. It is so full of redemption and salvation. It hits me the way Jesus using those ceremonial watering jars filled with water to perform his first sign: Water into wine. There we learned Jesus was better. It strikes me like Jesus telling Nicodemus that he needed a new birth of water and Spirit because his physical birth (i.e., being an Israelite) was not sufficient. It smacks me like the woman’s first question to Jesus: “Are you greater than our Father Jacob.” It clobbers me like Jesus’ statement, “A time is coming, and how now come, when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.” Or, “You will see greater things than this.” It is a parable, this leaving behind her water jar, whether she intended it to be or not. It speaks volumes about the progress she has made from ‘will you give me a drink’ to ‘I who speak to you am he.’
She left behind that which satisfied her only for a moment and returned to the people, the people who evidently shunned her daily, and announced to them: Could this be? It is reminiscent of what Philip said to Nathanel, what Andrew said to Peter, what John the Baptizer said to his disciples: We have found the Messiah! This woman, this unnamed, Samaritan woman with a jaded, checkered past, and questionable character, and suspect lifestyle is one of the fist evangelists to announce the arrival of Messiah. In a very similar way we see Jesus refusing food when his disciples return. She forgot about, or purposely disdained, her water jar in her hurry to get back and announce to the people of Sychar that she had found Messiah. (On a slightly side note which I may pursue later, some commentators note the similarities and contrasts between the story of Jesus and Nicodemus (3) and Jesus and this Samaritan woman. I would note one outstanding difference: She had no fear of going and announcing Jesus to people. We have no such information about Nicodemus.)
Second, there are the disciples who had just returned to find Jesus talking with the woman. Evidently they thought something was amiss, but they kept quiet about it. They were, as usual, very concerned about food. What they prove about themselves is that they are still stuck back in verse 15: “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” They, unlike the woman, had not progressed along very far at all. Their minds are still on earthy things; they had yet to let go of their water jars: “Could someone have brought him food?” They are stood in stark contrast to this Samaritan woman who left behind her water jar and went back to town, not to buy food as the disciples had done, but to announce the Messiah.
There is probably something to be said about this without obscuring the theological point. But have you ever seen someone who all of the sudden has an awakening to the identity of Jesus? And how do they compare with those insiders who have been walking with him for some time? Well, this woman, left her jar for Jesus; the disciples left Jesus for food. I don’t want to abuse the text of Scripture, but that much is obvious, isn’t it? And what I wonder about are those who have walked a long time or even a short time compared with the Newly Awakened and have lost their zeal. In other words what Jesus says, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” I think that was a crushing blow to those disciples who had gone to get food. Remember those at the beginning: Andrew went and found Peter. Here’s what it says, “The First Thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, ‘We have Found the Messiah.’ And he brought him to Jesus.” We might readily assume that the first thing Philip did was find Nathanael.
Well, here are the twelve. They arrive in fertile territory, where barely any seeds had been planted, and they are first concerned with food, second concerned with why Jesus is talking to this woman, and third concerned with why Jesus won’t eat. The woman starts off the same: Concerned about water. But as it slowly dawned on her who Jesus was her priorities shifted: Her job was to tell. Maybe I’m making too big a deal out of it. But why does it seem to be the exact opposite for those who have followed Christ for a short or long time? That is, why with new people does the awareness of who Jesus is dawn, and for those who have followed Him, the awareness sets? New disciples enthuse; older disciples grow, well, complacent?
So when Jesus says, “I sent you to reap what you have not worked for, Others have don done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor,” I think he is talking about that crowd of people from Sychar who are walking out at the heals, beck and call, of the unnamed Samaritan woman. I sense in her statement, “He told me everything I ever did,’ something more than just ‘he told me about my 5 husbands,’ because, if in fact she was shunned by the community because of her reputation…well, everyone would have known ‘everything she had ever done.’ She went and proclaimed Christ. There was something in her testimony that provoked more than a passing interest. This crowd of Samaritans were the harvest Jesus was speaking of. Nevertheless, Jesus says, all have a share in the harvest; all have a share in the joy. All receive the same day’s denarius.
In conclusion I have this to say. Open your eyes. Look around. There is a harvest waiting to be reaped. Seeds have been planted, I can’t imagine any less now than then, and are bursting through the soil. And what Jesus says is this: These seeds do not take a long time to produce fruit. You say, ‘Four more months and then the harvest.’ Jesus says, “Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life.’ There’s no time like the present. Eternal life has already begun for those who can accept it. It’s time for you and me to get our minds on the business at hand. It’s time for you and me to get our minds off of water, food, water jars, and eating and get our hands, heads, hearts busy with doing the will of God. Dare I say that when we do we shall find joy, satisfaction, and plenty beyond what this earth can provide, beyond what the culture promises?
I hope this 15th Day of 90 is Blessed For you in the Lord.
Soli Deo Gloria!