Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, “Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John” —although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized— he left Judea and started back to Galilee. But he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
Gotta admit — this selection puzzled me when I read it. Then I saw that tomorrow’s choice is the whole rest of this story and immediately felt a whole lot better. We’ll look at that in 24 hours, but for today, this is it.
I looked back at chapter 3 to see where we were — Jesus met with Nicodemus early in that chapter and then the scene switches abruptly to John the Baptist and his band of followers. Those followers are concerned about this new guy, Jesus of Nazareth, and that he and his friends are also doing baptism. This is the famous place where John tells his band that, ‘he must increase and I must decrease.’
John the Baptist knew what was up, what was real, what was true, and he wasn’t afraid to say it out loud, even while he continued with his own ministry of preparing the way.
At the end of chapter 3, John the gospel writer writes a magnificent paragraph about who this Jesus is, clearly identifying him as one sent from God with a special message of salvation for the world. And woe to those who do not heed that message, too.
Next thing you know, chapter 4 makes this odd jump, both narratively and geographically. One thing this switch does is get Jesus back to Galilee — the primary place for his ministry life. So there is a thread here, though it is convoluted. And that thread is the Baptizer. Does Jesus choose to get out of John’s way for a while? The language makes it seem like the Pharisees were trying to whip up some competition between the two men — dueling waterfalls, if you will. Maybe that was part of it. But you wanna know what I think?
I think Jesus had an appointment in Samaria that he could not miss, that’s what I think. So he heads back home the long way, so he can be at that well, right in the middle of the day . . .
. . .to be continued.
Oh, Lord, I do love a good cliffhanger. And this one is grand! Thank you for our Bible, for the beauty of it, the powerful narrative arc of it, the magnificent small vignettes like this that are just sort of tossed in to teach us all kinds of important lessons. Help us not to let the competitive urges of this world infect the church, will you please? Remind us that you went out of your way to walk deliberately away from any kind of competition with your cousin, John. That you chose instead to go into the back country, the enemy country, in order to keep on telling your story, to keep on inviting people in. Especially those who are on the outside.