• Pastor Bill


A sermon on John 4:5-42 by Pastor Bill Bernau of Saint James Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Johnston, IA

March 14/15, 2020

John 4:5-42 (NRSV)

5 So [Jesus] came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)[a] 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you[b] say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he,[c] the one who is speaking to you.”

27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah,[d] can he?” 30 They left the city and were on their way to him.

31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36 The reaper is already receiving[e] wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 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 truly the Savior of the world.”


  1. John 4:9 Other ancient authorities lack this sentence

  2. John 4:20 The Greek word for you here and in verses 21 and 22 is plural

  3. John 4:26 Gk I am

  4. John 4:29 Or the Christ

  5. John 4:36 Or 35 . . . the fields are already ripe for harvesting. 36 The reaper is receiving

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Sermon

Do you remember the TV show, Scandal? It ran on ABC for seven seasons and starred Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope. Olivia ran a crisis management firm in Washington, D.C. In each episode she was helping a Senator or member of Congress or The President deal with a scandal. The bottom line was, if you had a dead body in your office that you needed to make disappear or at least explain, Olivia was the person to call.

Today’s lesson from the Gospel of John is scandalous. I think it is the most scandalous story in John’s Gospel; and that is saying something. Remember, this gospel includes seven signs (i.e. miracles), a woman caught in the act, the raising of Lazarus, Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s denial and the Cross! But this story from John 4 beats them all in my opinion and let me tell you why.

First, Jesus is in Samaria talking to Samaritans. Jesus’ people hated Samaria. They worked hard to avoid Samaritans. The worst thing your son or daughter coming home from college for spring break could say was, “Hi Mom, Hi Dad, meet my friend Sam, he/she is a Samaritan and we’re getting married!”

The reasons for this hatred developed over centuries. In began with a civil war in 930 BCE which divided the United Kingdom of Israel into two parts: North and South. (Think Yankees and Rebels.) The Southern Kingdom was called Judah. The Northern Kingdom was called Israel and later Samaria.

Hatred for Samaria and Samaritans grew after the Northern Kingdom was destroyed in 722 BCE by the Assyrians. This destruction meant that a large group of people (aka the 10 Lost Tribes) were moved out of the Northern Kingdom/Samaria and a large group of refugees from other places were moved into the Northern Kingdom/Samaria. Over time the people left behind and the new people mixed their gene-pool, language, food, traditions, and religion. They became Samaritans!

Jesus’ people hated Samaritans. And in fairness, Samaritans hated Jesus’ people.

The second scandal of this passage is that Jesus is talking to a Samaritan woman. And this isn’t small talk. It’s not chit chat. It is a long thoughtful conversation about theology. It is Jesus’ longest theological conversation in all of scripture with anyone! And she’s a woman. Even if she was Jewish, Jesus should not be talking to a woman he doesn’t know. He should be talking to her husband, father or brother (more on that in a minute).

And there’s one more thing about him and her and their conversation (scandal number three if you’re still counting): they’re talking by a well! In the Bible, when a man meets a woman at a well they usually end up getting married. Isaac’s wife Rebekah was found by a well. Jacob met his wife Rachel at a well. Moses met his wife at a well. Is Jesus about to get married? Talk about a scandal.

Scandal number four is announced in verses 16-18, but it’s likely not the scandal you think it is. She has had five husbands and is living with a man to whom she is not married! Slow down, slow down… biblical scholars would like to remind us of a few things:

  • In all likelihood several of the five husbands died, leaving this woman widowed repeatedly.

  • If some of the 5 marriages ended in divorce, that was the man’s decision since women had little to no say in the matter,

  • If she was thrown away by several husbands it may have been because she was barren, i.e. unable to produce a child, especially a son. Barren like Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel were at one time. That’s Jacob’s grandmother, mother and wife. Remember it’s his well that they’re conversing by.

  • The man she is currently living with could be her father or brother, we really don’t know.

Five husbands and a live-in may not be the scandal, and yet she has gone to the well at mid-day, the hottest part of the day. She seems to be going to the well at a time when she could expect to be alone, a time when she might avoid the gossip and the stares of other women. There is the hint of a scandal about her. Maybe people thought she was cursed. She might have thought that about herself. But mostly the scandal of this woman is that Jesus somehow knows her, her history and the pain that came with it.

It’s really just one scandal after another in this story. Call Olivia Pope!

But the greatest scandal by far is what Jesus said to her. She wants him to pick a side, “Your people say the only place to worship is on that mountain. My people say the only place to worship is on this mountain. What do you say?”

Can I paraphrase Jesus’ answer? ‘Sister, the days are surely coming… in fact they are here right now… when people won’t worship on that mountain or this one… but in spirit and truth… together!’

In a world where Jews hated Samaritans and Samaritans hated Jews, Jesus said, ‘No more. We’re not doing that any more.” There is the scandal of John chapter four!

What mountain do you worship on?

  • Martin Luther not the Pope, not Calvin, not Wesley.

  • It’s got to be Liturgical… only on Sunday… only in King James.

  • It’s here not there… It’s us not them…

Tell me, if Jesus came here today and said,

  • Jews and Christians will now worship together in spirit and truth,

  • Muslims and Christians will now worship together in spirit and truth,

  • Atheists and Believers will now worship together in spirit and truth,

  • No more of this ‘us verses them’ business.

Tell me, if Jesus said that, we’d fire him, wouldn’t we? Because it’s a scandal? God’s love can’t possibly be big enough to include them or her... and us… can it?

I want you to know something:

God’s love is scandalous!

It’s that big. It’s that inclusive. It forgives sinners and gathers the lost.

I want you to know this for two reasons.

First, because some of us (maybe most of us) have been told something different at some point in our lives. Something like, ‘God will love you, if…’ or ‘God loves those who…’ And the big problem with “if” or “who” is that it leaves all of us in doubt, as in ‘maybe’ but ‘maybe not.’

Protestants and Catholics have sometimes told each other to feel that way. Christians have said, “it’s for us, not them.” Divorced people, people with doubts, our LGBTQ children and friends… Lots of people have heard it. Sometimes they’ve heard it from us. Sometimes they’ve heard it with us and we were silent when we should have objected.

Know this:

God’s love is scandalous!

It’s that big. It’s that inclusive. It forgives. It searches out the lost.

It includes you and me and them!

Second, I want you to know this because Jesus wants you to spread the word. That’s our job. Tell people about the scandal of God’s love. Tell them it’s big enough, inclusive enough to include them. Tell your children, tell your spouse, even your ex… tell your parents and your neighbors even if they live in Samaria, even if they worship on a different mountain. Tell the person you see in the mirror.

Tell them all…

God’s love is scandalous.

It’s that big. It’s that inclusive. It’s for you too.

Let all of Gos’s people say, ‘Thanks be to God and Amen.’

Copyright © 2020 Pastor Bill Bernau. All rights reserved.