One of my favorite features of my trial lectionary is the timing of the Gospel of John: we start reading it in Lent, get to the arrest & trial & passion on Holy Week, he dies on Good Friday, resurrects on Easter, and the post-resurrection narratives wrap up through Easter week. Today, though, we’ve just reached John 4, the story of Jesus meeting a Samaritan woman at a well. They talk about water, living water, Samaritan worship, Jewish worship, true worship, and finally the Messiah.
Once Jesus reveals his special knowledge of her, she recognizes that he’s a prophet and immediately points out the worship differences between Samaria & Judea, perhaps to explore what sort of message he might be carrying. Jesus, in response, delivers the famous line, “the hour is coming when people will worship in spirit and truth!” Now the woman really gets on the right track: “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” And Jesus brings this conversation to an astonishing close: “I who speak to you am he.”
I say ‘astonishing’ because Jesus constantly avoids being identified as the Messiah through much of his ministry – people have such messed-up understandings of what the Messiah’s supposed to do. Too many expect a earthly conqueror to restore the physical throne of David in Jerusalem, rather than a spiritual conqueror to restore the spiritual throne of David in the heavenly Jerusalem.
But here the Samaritan woman says that the messiah will show Judea & Samaria “all things” with regard to true worship. Since Jesus is the way & truth & life, this statement of hers is unusually accurate. So, for a change, Jesus affirms his identity as the Messiah! It’s not that Jesus normally rejects being considered the Messiah (as some revisionist scholars have argued in recent times), but that he rejected the incorrect understanding of the Messiah that many Jews had at the time. Lucky for us, this Samaritan woman had a much better idea of what to expect, so we can benefit from this beautiful little revelation of the identity of Christ Jesus!