Unexpected witnesses to Jesus
April 22 — John 4:7-30; April 29 — John 9:1-17By Ted Grimsrud
John lets us know from the beginning of his Gospel that though Jesus brings God’s light into the world and brings peace, it’s a peace that challenges established certainties and boundary lines.
One of the most amazing of the stories of how Jesus challenges assumptions is his encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well.
Jesus enters into forbidden territory for a man of his religious affiliation when he ventures into Samaria — the home of a rival branch of Judaism in constant enmity with the temple-centered Jews.
Jesus actually goes to Samaria, as it turns out, looking for people of faith who will witness to his identity as God’s Messiah come to bring light into the world’s darkness.
He finds such a witness, shockingly enough, in a Samaritan (an “enemy,” see also the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10). But even more shocking, it’s a Samaritan woman. Christian tradition has unjustly treated this woman as a profound sinner. Jesus does not identify her as such.
Still, simply that he, a Jewish rabbi, would carry on such a mutually respectful conversation on such important matters with a woman and a Samaritan was plenty radical.
Driving home the point of the challenge of Jesus’ message even more, we may contrast this Samaritan woman’s receptivity to Jesus’ message of the dawning new age to the resistance we saw from the religious leader, Nicodemus, in John 3.
Whereas Nicodemus refuses to learn from Jesus (3:4, 9), the woman listens and grows in her understanding — to the point where Jesus reveals to her (of all people) for the first time his identity as the Messiah (4:26). She witnesses to this revelation, and many of the despised Samaritans believe in him due to her testimony (4:39).
Jesus’ healing of a man “blind from birth” also shows a remarkable growth in understanding and responsiveness from an unexpected person. In both cases, the person Jesus encounters makes powerful witness to his identity and mission.
Jesus shrugs off his disciples’ speculation about the dynamics of sin and the causes of the man’s blindness. No, what matters here, he insists, is that this man’s blindness provides an occasion to see God’s healing power (9:3). God isn’t concerned with assessing responsibility for this problem, but with healing it.
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