Nicodemus and the Woman of Samaria

Most people do not realize it, but biblical authors and compilers were strategic and deliberate in how they arranged their material. Many times, what is not explicitly revealed in the text is implicitly revealed in the arrangement of the text. I believe this is the case in John chapters 3 and 4. They serve as “bookends” to illustrate the point that whether a person is of high social rank and status or whether they are of what could be called: “low-class,” they both have a common need to have a life-changing, life-saving encounter with Jesus. Now, let’s look at the comparison and contrast between the meetings that Jesus had with Nicodemus in John 3 and the Woman of Samaria in John 4.

The first comparison to note is the way the text introduces the two contrasting characters. John 3:1 says: “There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.” John 4:7 says: “There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water.” Note the contrast: The man of the Pharisees was religious, respected, and named! The wording of the text suggests that this “Woman of Samaria” was a person of questionable moral character. The contrast is between a man and a woman, a religious man and an immoral woman, a named man and an un-named woman. Note the timing of the meetings: Nicodemus came to Jesus by night (I call it “the meeting with Nick at Night!”); Jesus met the woman of Samaria in the middle of the day! Nicodemus knew who Jesus was and initiated the meeting; the woman didn’t know who Jesus was and it was Jesus who initiated the meeting. Jesus talked to Nicodemus on the religious theme of being born again, while he talked with the woman on the common theme of the need for (living) water.

Now, I’m not going to go into too much depth with this comparison, but I am somewhat struck by the irony of the conversations in the two meetings. One would have expected Nicodemus to understand what Jesus was talking about; but he didn’t! One would not have expected the woman of Samaria to understand, and although she too was confused, she understood to a greater degree than Nicodemus!

And then finally, compare the end-results. Nicodemus left his meeting and told no one. The woman of Samaria left her water pot, went downtown and told everyone! As a result of Nicodemus’ encounter, no one, except perhaps himself, was saved. But as a result of the woman’s encounter a whole village was evangelized! John 4:39-41 says: “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me all that I ever did.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

What is the lesson for us? Could it be that sometimes “bad people” can indeed have a good testimony? Nicodemus felt that he had no need of salvation because he was already a “member, even a leader, of the church.”  However, it is not religion that saves us; it is a real and vital relationship with Jesus.

Give the “Lady” a Break!

One of the most common exegetical mistakes we tend to make when studying the Bible is the mistake of judging the people of the ancient Eastern text by our modern Western standards. I believe we have done this with the woman of Samaria in John 4.

Every time I have heard this text preached or taught, this woman is betrayed as being the “Samaritan Nymphomaniac!” Yes! Jesus did say to her: “You have had five husbands and the one you are with now is not yours!” But was the fact that she had been through five husbands really her choice? I really don’t think it was! Let me show you what I am talking about: Although the Samaritans were considered “half-bred” Jews, they governed themselves according to the Jewish law. And according to the Jewish law at that time, a woman did not have a legal right to get a divorce! Only the husband had the right of divorce! So, if this woman had been with five husbands, it was more than likely that it was not because she had left them; but rather because they had left her! And beside the issue of a woman not being legally able to get a divorce, there was the matter of support. Women were not “liberated” in that day and culture, therefore the only way a woman was supported was by her father, until she was married, and then she was supported by her husband and finally, when her husband died, she was supported by her sons. If there were no sons, she usually went back to her father’s house. That is one of the reasons Jesus momentarily “stopped dying” on the cross. Apparently, Joseph had died prior to this time. Therefore, with him being the oldest son, it had been his responsibility to take care of his mother. So, with his death soon approaching, he wanted to make sure that his mother Mary was taken care of! So, the Bible says: “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” (John 19:26-27 ESV) So, I doubt very seriously, given the context of the time, that this woman was really just simply running from man to man. I think she had had five husbands because they had either left her through divorce and/or death and she had no sons.

So, by the time she met Jesus, she was tired! Tired of being disappointed by divorce and/or death! She was tired of men making commitments, only to be disappointed time, after time, after time! She was tired of being lied to by men who said they would be with her forever! Maybe she was tired of following caskets to the cemetery! I think that she was so tired of being disappointed that by the time she met Jesus, she had resigned herself to accepting “shacking” or “sharing!” Now, this is by no means an attempt to excuse her sin, but I think it is a more reasonable explanation of it! I think we have been unfair to her! I think we need to take another look at this text and give the “lady” a break!