Often I have heard preaching on the story of the woman at the well (John 4:4-42) which portrays the woman as basically a “bad” person. A lot of assumptions are made in order to reach this assessment of her, and I’d like to propose some different assumptions.
The woman, unfortunately we don’t know her name, comes to draw water at noon time. According to the practices of women of the day, this was not normal. Ordinarily women would draw water in the morning. All the women would be there about the same time before the heat of the day would set in, and we can imagine a bit of a confab, catching up with each other on what’s been happening in their lives.
One theory about why this woman draws water at noon is that she is not welcome there at the same time as the other women (based on the fact, we learn later, that she has had five husbands and is now with a man who is not her husband). There are other possibilities though. Perhaps she was attending a sick person that morning and had to wait until one of the other women relieved her before she could go to the well. Perhaps she herself was not feeling well. Or, perhaps, she was late because she had a divine appointment to meet her Savior that day.
While she visits with Jesus (alone!) he witnesses to her and then asks her to get her husband and bring him back. Here is where we find out, from Jesus, that she has had 5 husbands and the man she is currently with is not her husband. Is she a “bad” woman or a “fallen” woman because she has had 5 husbands? Not necessarily. Possibly one or two of those husbands died and the others divorced her. Even if all five of them divorced her, we don’t know why. But we do know that five men thought enough of her to marry her. There could be any number of reasons for a husband to put her aside, and one possibility is that she was infertile, something for which she would not be at fault.
What we can say definitely is that she has known love, rejection and loss. So Jesus is once again ministering to someone who is hurting, and he has thoughtfully chosen to do this while his disciples were away and he could speak with her privately.
Even though Jesus has told her everything she has ever done (v. 29), presumably both the good and the bad in her life, she doesn’t feel chastised or denigrated. Instead she is energized. So when the disciples return, the woman leaves her water jar to go back to town. That’s one excited woman who abandons her water jar at the well. She goes in to the village like a town crier and the people listen to her; then they follow her out to hear Jesus. If she were a disreputable woman, the people probably would not have listened to her or followed her out to hear Jesus.
Again, I don’t believe this woman was an outcast or a “bad” person who drew water at noon because she was not welcome by the other women. I believe she was a hurting woman who had a divine appointment with Jesus, a man who proved to her that he was at least a prophet and possibly the Messiah. Yes, she is with a man now who is not her husband, but we don't know the circumstances that led to that decision.
In the closing of the story, we learn that many Samaritans of that town believed because of the woman’s testimony; and many more believed because of Jesus’ own words.
So, this woman, a Samaritan, not a Jew, married 5 times, hurt and rejected, became an evangelist to her town even before the disciples were able to recognize that Samaritans deserved to be evangelized. Jesus often chose the most unlikely people. What a divine appointment they had that day.
For Reflection: Have I judged someone whose story I really don't know? Have I failed to recognize people who are hurting?
Let us pray. Jesus, give me eyes to see people the way you see them. Give me patience to listen to their stories. Help me to recognize who they can be, not just who they have been. I need to remember that all are called to your kingdom.
The third thing I think we can definitely know that God stands for is that he always wants what is best for us. How could we call him a loving God if he didn't want what was best for us? No matter how many times the Hebrew people strayed, God loved them and called them back to him. Even when he punished them it was so that they would repent and return to him (see Jeremiah 29:11; 31:3). Loving parents correct their children when they are wrong; we can expect no less from God, the perfect parent. Unlike our human parents, he makes no mistakes in dealing with us. We can trust that what he does is absolutely the best for us.
Yet, many people with whom I pray seem to be afraid to approach God, to listen to God. They are afraid that he will criticize, scold or condemn. The overwhelming evidence of the New Testament, though, is that he will be gentle. Take the case of the woman accused of adultery (John 8:1-11). Though she was guilty, Jesus did not condemn her. He simply said, Go and sin no more. Or the woman at the well (John 4). This woman had not led an exemplary life. But Jesus' conversation with her, wherein he "told her everything she ever did", did not leave her condemned or chastised. Rather she was energized and went exclaiming to the whole town to come and see.
I repeat: Jesus wants what is best for us because he loves us. It is a truth we can surely stand on with him. We need not fear spending time with him, or talking with him, or listening to him, because God is love (1 John 4:7-12). He has our best interests at heart.
For Reflection: Have we been avoiding time with God out of fear of what he might say?
Let us pray. Lord Jesus, we take courage from your interactions with the women in the Scriptures. We need not fear you, nor doubt you, nor mistrust you. You love us. You always want what is best for us.
For John one of the marks of a true Christian is love. God is love. Jesus laid down his life out of love. We should love one another. And what is this love? It is more than a feeling; it is an action. "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth" (1 John 3:16-18).
The early disciples lived this out. We read in Acts 2:44 that "(A)ll the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need." Today we find it hard to fathom that this can or even should be done.
For Reflection: We who are fortunate may have no first-hand experience of poverty. We may only see pictures on TV of people who have nothing or who have lost everything. We may never have been through a hurricane, a tornado or even a job loss. Would we be willing to sell what we have in order to give to someone we don't know personally? Would we be willing to do it for a friend?
Let us pray. Lord Jesus, I've never sold anything to help someone else. I'm not sure I have that quality of love, that level of love. But I'm willing to learn.
We sin; we don't sin. We sin; we don't sin. It seems as though John goes back and forth on the issue. In 1 John 1:8 he says, "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." In 1 John 3:6 he says, "No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him." What are we to do with these two verses?
One interpretation is that in chapter 3 John means that Christians don't persist in sin. They don't continue to commit the same sin with no thought of repentance, confession, or change. The author of Hebrews seems to share this opinion in 10:26 when he writes, "If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left."
When we are baptized, we receive grace to help keep us from sin. And God continues to give us this grace, this help along the path. If we use the grace we are given, and continue to ask for more help from the Holy Spirit, the habitual sins of our past should fall by the wayside. We continue to become more like Jesus every day.
For Reflection: Do I have a persistent sin in my life? Have I repented and confessed it? God's grace is sufficient for any situation.
Let us pray. Jesus, your grace is sufficient because you died for me. Your grace is sufficient because your mercies are new every morning. Your grace is sufficient because you are faithful and true.
"Who are you?" It's a common enough question, but what is our answer? Is our first answer our name, our position, our job? Most often, I think, we answer who we are in the world's eyes, not in God's eyes, even though we know that God's designation is more important than the world's. The apostle John very clearly states that we are children of God. That is our primary and most important description.
John does not expect that to be our only name though as is clear when he says, "(W)hat we will be has not yet been made known" (1 John 3:2). We are expected to grow in Christ to become more like him until the time when we see him face-to-face. After all, when we face him we don't want to be ashamed (1 John 2:28). We will want to have done something with what God gave us. Remember the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30. Everything we have comes from God and is to be returned to God in better shape or even multiplied.
So who are we? We are children of God, stewards, anointed ones, blessed, gifted, conquerors, ambassadors. The list goes on and on.
For Reflection: Who am I? How does God see me? What have I done with what God has given me?
Let us pray. "We know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror, then we shall see face to face, Now I know in part, then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known" (1 Corinthians 13: 9-10, 12).
Our dear friend John keeps challenging us in his first letter. Now he wants to talk to us about "the world". Again his words are strong. "Do not love the world or anything in the world. . . For everything in the world - the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does - comes not from the Father but from the world" (1 John 2:15-17).
We know that God created the world and declared that everything he created was good. So what is it about the world that we should not love? Cravings refers to satisfying our physical desires; lust is the desire for and accumulation of things; boasting is pride as if we accomplish anything on our own. These things that John warned against are still prevalent today and still just as hard to overcome today. Perhaps more so. Today we have a feast for the eyes through all kinds of social media. Temptations are everywhere. And we don't necessarily have to partake of the offerings in order to sin. We just have to crave, to lust. We can do those things without leaving our favorite chair at home. Boasting can be about what we have accomplished or about what our children or grandchildren have accomplished; e.g., graduated from Harvard, makes six figures, vacationed on the Riviera. We hear these types of boasts all the time. But how often do we hear, "My grandson is such a Godly man." Or "My daughter is a woman after God's heart."
For Reflection: Craving, lusting and boasting are ever-present temptations. Where is love for "the world" present in my life? Is there a way to eliminate or at least minimize whatever leads me into these sins?
Let us pray. "You are my King and my God, who decrees victories for Jacob. Through you we push back our enemies; through your name we trample our foes. I do not trust in my bow, my sword does not bring me victory; but you give us victory over our enemies, you put our adversaries to shame. In God we make our boast all day long, and we will praise your name forever" (Psalm 44:4-8).
Another of the many contrasts John draws in his first letter is that of the old command and the new command. In 1 John 2:7 he says, I'm not writing you a new command but an old one, yet it is a new command. So which is it? New or old?
He means to say it is both old and new. Leviticus 19:18 reads, "Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord." (emphasis mine) Jesus said that we should love one another as he loved us, which is more than loving our neighbor as ourselves (John 13:34). Loving someone as God loves us goes far beyond loving someone as we love ourselves. In this way, Jesus' teaching is an old teaching with a new twist. It is a command of a greater magnitude. The Jewish hearers of Jesus' teaching would have noticed the change immediately. They had been taught to love only those who did good to them.
But Jesus' teaching specifically went beyond even loving our neighbors when he proclaimed, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:43). So the teaching of Jesus progressed from the old command to "love your neighbor as yourself" to "love your neighbor as I love you" to "love your enemies". Changing from "love your neighbor" to "love your enemy" indeed makes it a new command. Undoubtedly this is one of the hardest teachings of Jesus to accept and try to practice.
For Reflection: As Christians, how are we doing at loving our neighbors? How are we doing at loving our enemies? Perhaps we need to ask ourselves, "Who is my enemy?" Today I hear people in the U.S. speak of "those republicans" or "those democrats" as if they are the enemy. Or we speak of unnamed terrorists or ISIS or Al Quaeda as the enemy. Yet Paul says we wrestle not against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12). So who, indeed, is our enemy?
Let us pray. Jesus, I seek to follow your command to love my enemies and pray for, or do good to, those who persecute me. Who have I been treating as my enemy? I ask you to help me see them through your eyes. I need help praying for them and not against them.
"The man . . . is a liar and the truth is not in him." Strong words from Apostle John speaking in general of someone who says he knows God yet does not obey God's commands (1 John 2:3-5). John also calls out another type of liar: "Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist -- he denies the Father and the Son" (1 John 2:22).
Again, these are such strong words from John. But in a way they tell us what a Christian must profess and do. A Christian must know that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed Son of God and must follow in the footsteps of Christ. A Christian must walk the walk. And how do we walk the walk? We follow the example of Jesus and we do whatever specific things God calls us to do. Following his example means caring about people, offering loving service and giving witness to God the Father.
It is not so difficult to know what Jesus did because we can read the Bible to find out. But many have trouble knowing exactly what God is calling them specifically to do. This calls for prayer and listening. Jesus also prayed and listened to the Father. He often went off to a quiet place to pray. If even Jesus needed to pray, to seek the Father's face, how much more do we need to do the same?
For Reflection: How often and how earnestly do I pray and seek God's direction for my life? If I need to do more, it needs to be scheduled. When will it be?
Let us pray. Jesus, I know you went off alone to pray all the time. I need to do the same. Please show me the opportunities in my day when I can spend a little time with you and the Father. I don't want to be the liar who says one thing and does another. I want to be your true witness. I want to follow in your footsteps and listen to the Father's directions.
"God is light" is the opening theme of 1 John (1:5). The light of God is contrasted with the darkness of Satan, sin and evil. God is pure light. In him there is no darkness at all. If there is darkness in us, then we are not in the pure light of God. The pure light is the truth; darkness is a lie.
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, as Romans 3:23 tells us. If we claim not to have sinned, then we are liars. The pure light of God is sinlessness and it is truth. All else has some measure of darkness, sin and fabrication. Since we are not perfect, not pure, then we have elements of darkness, sin and falsehood within us. However, if we confess our sins, God will forgive us and purify us. This is a great promise - like a "get out of jail free" card. If we but sincerely repent and confess our sins, God will forgives us. It's not that he might forgive us, or probably he will forgive us, but he will forgive us. It's a sure thing. God will take us out of the darkness and bring us back into the light. He sets us free from our bad choices.
Thus begins John's argument against those who would deny the reality of sin (1 John 1:5-10). Sin is real and it is present in all of us. If we think it is not, we deceive ourselves.
For Reflection: Have I been thinking that I am past all that sinning "stuff?" I'm too good to sin now. If so, how did this lie get into my thinking?
Let us pray. Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise. You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you" (Nehemiah 9:5b-6).
The three letters of St. John are quite short and often seem to be ignored. The first letter encourages Christians to stay strong to the true teachings because falsehoods were being spread. The heretical proselytizers denied that Jesus was God and that sin was real.
John begins his letter by giving his credentials. He knew Jesus personally, walked with him day-by-day, saw his miracles, witnessed his death, and ate and drank with him after the resurrection. From that direct experience, he speaks. "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched --- this we proclaim concerning the Word of life" (1 John 1:1). Who better to know and tell us the truth than one of the original 12 disciples? In fact, John often spent extra time with Jesus as one of the three (along with Peter and James) who was singled out by Jesus (e.g., Matthew 17:1-9).
John proclaims what he knows to be the truth. God became man. Jesus Christ is the Son of God. If we believe this, then we have fellowship with one another. This fellowship is both spiritual and social. Spiritually we have the same belief that Jesus is the Messiah and so we have fellowship with the Father and the Son. Socially we are united with fellow believers through good times and bad, through peace and persecution, through death into eternal life.
For Reflection: Unity in belief and fellowship helps us to hold fast to the truth. Have I gotten away from Christian fellowship? How intimately do I know Jesus?
Let us pray. Jesus, I have not walked with you in the way that John did. Still I long to be by your side, to walk with you, to talk with you, and to hear your voice every day. Nothing else could be as special to me.
I started this website and blog on May 1, 2012. I am a Catholic who has been in ministry for many years. I first developed what I would call a close relationship with Jesus in the early 1970s. Ever since then I have been praying with people for healing and other needs. It is because I have seen so many of these prayers answered that I am so bold as to offer to pray for you individually through this website and phone line.