Wednesday: Judges 13:15-24; Psalms 101; Acts 6:1-15; John 4:1-26
Manoah asks to prepare a meal for “the man,” not knowing it is the Angel of the Lord (who in reality is God—“Angel of the Lord” the way the biblical writer tries to avoid saying that God has shown up in person). “The man,” refuses Manoah’s request, but says that Manoah may make a burnt offering to the Lord. Manoah asks “the man’s” name and the angel responds, “Why do you ask since my name is wonderful, the Hebrew of which means “beyond comprehension.” Manoah prepares the burnt offering of a goat and grain, and offers it on a rock, and as he does, the Lord performs wonders, including the Angel of the Lord ascending in and with the flame. As that happens, Manoah and his wife fall on their face in obeisance and fear. Manoah now understands that he has seen the Angel of the Lord and thus fears that they will die. His wife knows better: why would the Angel have gone to all this trouble if he meant to kill them. No, they will live, and she will give birth to the promised child. And so she does and names him Sampson, which means “deliverer of Israel.”
The psalm can be read either as a royal psalm in which the King is making an oath concerning his office, and promising to root out the evil and perverse from the community or, it may be read as a wisdom psalm that is a model for instructing the young. The language is harsh for effect, and not meant to be taken literally. “Morning by morning” is not a daily call to destroy all the wicked in the land. Soon the land would be desolate! Rather, it is an expression of the need for wisdom’s vigilance daily.
The number of believers continues to increase, including not only many of the priests in Jerusalem, but also Gentile proselytes who had become Jews, who now have responded to the gospel. The mixture of ethnic groups within the infant church brought with it growing pains which led to the emergence of a new ministry within the church—the deacons. The custom was for the believers to gather each evening in someone’s home, for worship—the apostles’ teaching, the Lord’s Supper (breaking of bread), and fellowship—and do so during the evening meal. Once that was complete, whatever food and drink were left over from the meal became part of a daily distribution to the widow and orphans among them. It was not long before the Gentile Christians began to complain that their widows and orphans were either being neglected altogether or receiving less than the Jewish Christians’ widows and orphans. They take the complaint to the twelve who announce that it is not right for them to abandon the preaching of the Word to “wait on tables.” And so they decide to choose seven among them to oversee the daily distribution. It is the emergence of the ministry of deacons who ever after will be responsible for what John Calvin will call “the ministry of sympathy and service,”—the care for the poor and others in need. The seven are a mixed group of Jews and Gentile proselytes, including Stephen, a Greek convert. Though they have been set aside to “serve at tables” that is not all they do. Soon, Stephen is preaching and debating with Jews about Jesus as the Christ and also performing many wonders and signs among the people. When some men from the Synagogue of Freedmen enter into debate with Stephen, they are overwhelmed by his Spirit filled speech and the power of his logic and so conspire to accuse him of blasphemy and discrediting Moses. They then stir up the people and drag Stephen away to the Council where they set up false witnesses against him and claim that Jesus had proclaimed and threatened to destroy the temple and change their customs. As all look on Stephen, his face begins to take on the countenance of an angel.
Word reaches the Pharisees in Jerusalem that someone besides John is baptizing out in the wilderness. When Jesus realizes they know what he is doing, he withdraws from Judea and heads north back home. To save time, or is it in order to have some “cover” from whatever Pharisees might try to follow him, he heads straight through Samaria. Samaria was “no man’s land” for Jews. The Samaritans and the Jews, who shared the first five books of Moses as their religious authority, had little else in common, and a long history of theological disagreement that broke into open hated when the Samaritans helped the Babylonians in their siege and destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BCE, and later, harassed the returning Jews in 540 BCE as they tried to rebuild the city. Jesus and his entourage enter Samaria and approach Sychar about noon. As the disciples go on into the city to look for food, Jesus stops at Jacob’s well for rest and refreshment. As he does a woman from Sychar approaches to draw water. (The author’s note that it is the sixth hour is his way of saying this is an unusual time for her to come to the well unless there are reasons she prefers not to associate with the rest of the women of the village who would normally draw water in the morning and evening.) As she approaches Jesus he asks her for a drink. She is shocked for two reasons: first, Jews did not speak to Samaritans, and second, men did not speak to unknown women unless looking for sexual favor. He has violated a cultural taboo and also put her on her guard. Hear that in her voice as she asks “How is it, that you, a Jew, asks me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” Jesus responds, “If you knew the gift of God and who it was that is asking, you would be the one asking, and he would give you living water (not the stale water of a cistern or this seepage well). She responds, “And just how, sir, would you get living water, you have nothing to draw it with and the well is deep. Are you greater than our father Jacob who gave us this well?” Jesus tells her that everyone who drinks Jacob’s well water will thirst again, but those who drink of the water he gives will find it welling up into a spring of eternal life. This has become a much different conversation than she had expected, and though now, more open to it, she still does not know what is in store for her with this Jewish stranger. Immediately she asks that he give her such water, not only so that her thirst may be quenched, but so she does not need to come back to the well again. Now that she is engaged in conversation, Jesus shifts the subject from water to husbands and tells her to go, get her husband, and bring him back. She says she has no husband; end of subject! Unsurprised and undaunted, Jesus says, “Indeed, what you say is true; you have had five husbands and the one you are now with is not your husband.” Stunned, and not sure where this is going, still, she thinks she is in the presence of a prophet. Consequently, she tries to shift the focus of the conversation away from herself and to matters theological: “Our fathers worshipped on this mountain (Gerizim, the old center of worship in the north before and after the United Kingdom moved it to Jerusalem), but your people say the place to worship is in Jerusalem. Jesus responds that the hour is soon coming when people will worship neither on Gerizim nor in Jerusalem. The Samaritans worship what they do not know; the Jews what they do know, for salvation is from the Jews. But, the hour is not only coming but is now when the true worshipper will worship the Father in Spirit and truth—precisely the kind of worship the Father seeks. God, after all, is Spirit, and those who worship God must do so in Spirit and in truth. More comfortable with this conversation, she presses her side of the argument further, saying, in effect, “I don’t know about that, but I know that the Messiah is coming, he who is called, ‘The Christ.’ When he comes he will clear all of this up and declare all things to us. Jesus simply responds, “I am he. Not only is he announcing to her that he is the Christ, he is doing so using the ineffable name for God—ego eimi—the first of a series of times Jesus will do so in this gospel. But this, his first use of “I am,” is not connected to a metaphor like “good shepherd,” “gate to the sheepfold,” etc., but directly to the central question of his identity: he is the Christ of God.
Author: The Rev. Dr. Fred R. Anderson
Created: June 21, 2012
The Rev. Dr. Fred R. Anderson, Pastor of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, offers thoughts on today’s lectionary readings.