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.