Good morning! In today’s passage of John 3-4, we overhear Jesus have a several transformational conversations. When speaking with Nicodemus, Jesus offers a bridge to the traditional Pharisee by teaching about being born of the Spirit. With the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus creates highly non-traditional bridges across gender and ethnicity to connect on the theme of new life. While we do not immediately hear what results from the first conversation, the second one unlocks a chain reaction of witnessing and testimony that leads to a transformed community.
Nicodemus is a member of the Jewish elite, a Pharisee and “a leader of the Jews”. He may be intended to sympathetically evoke the Jewish “old guard” who are drawn to Jesus but don’t know how he fits in their theology. The kind of new birth that Jesus describes relies on a wordplay which doesn’t translate well in English. Jesus tells Nicodemus that to be saved, one most be born “anothen” (in the Greek), which simultaneously means “from above” and “anew”. Nicodemus asks how one could be born a second time (a physical, bodily question), when what Jesus is talking about consists of a spiritual matter. Jesus makes a reference to the crucifixion (being “lifted up”) that only Christian readers might recognize. This section also include the familiar John 3:16, about those who believe in Jesus receiving eternal life. Some of the language after this passage really lends itself to an exclusivist claim that if one doesn’t believe one is condemned, but I hold fast to the promise in John 3:17, namely that “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” That which is non-God has no permanent, enduring power, and that which is of God will prevail in the end. We don’t hear Nicodemus’ response to these teachings in chapter 3. In fact, one must wait (past an inconclusive aside in John 7) all the way until John 19 to see what effect Jesus’ teaching has on this man. There at the end of the gospel, he’s moved enough to provide embalming spices and help to care for the body of Jesus, suggesting that he’s either off the fence and in the pro-Jesus camp, or at least still wrestling with it.
The Samaritan woman at the well shows a different result from an encounter with Jesus. John 4 largely focuses on describing this encounter, showing Jesus growing in his understanding and appreciation of an outsider like the Samaritan woman. First though, a word about geography. Contrary to what John writes, Jesus doesn’t have to go through Samaria on his way from Judea to Galilee. In fact, going through Samaria is quite out of his way. However, in another sense, Jesus did have to go through Samaria if he was going to leave such an impact on this woman and her community. His conversation with her breaks the bounds of social convention in multiple ways: he’s a man talking to a woman, a Samaritan at that, and a woman known for having multiple husbands. In short, this is the last person he “should” be talking to. However, their conversation takes on a larger-than-life symbolism of the importance of reaching out to untraditional folks. Unlike Nicodemus, this conversation stirs a desire to share what she’s learned with others, and she becomes an evangelist to Samaritans. “Many” came to faith because of what she shared. While Nicodemus is closer to Jesus’ native faith, he doesn’t have nearly the generative response that she does. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is John 5-6. Thanks for reading!