Commented Bible Passages

These Bible meditations are meant as a way of seeking God in silence and prayer in the midst of our daily life. During the course of a day, take a moment to read the Bible passage with the short commentary and to reflect on the questions which follow. Afterwards, a small group of 3 to 10 people can meet to share what they have discovered and perhaps for a time of prayer.

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Hospitality in Enemy Territory: John 4:4-15
Jesus had to pass through Samaria. He came to a Samaritan town called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, so Jesus, since he was tired from the journey, sat right down beside the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me some water to drink.” (For his disciples had gone off into the town to buy supplies.) So the Samaritan woman said to him, “How can you—a Jew—ask me, a Samaritan woman, for water to drink?” (For Jews have no relations with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you had known the gift of God and who it is who said to you, ‘Give me some water to drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” “Sir,” the woman said to him, “you have no bucket and the well is deep; where then do you get this living water? Surely you’re not greater than our ancestor Jacob, are you? For he gave us this well and drank from it himself, along with his sons and his livestock.” Jesus replied, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again. But whoever drinks the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again, but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” (John 4:4-15)

“Jews have no relations with Samaritans.” In the absence of diplomatic relations, the authorities advise against travel. By going to the Samaritans, Jesus took a risk. The gap was deep between the two peoples. According to Matthew’s Gospel Jesus said, “Enter no Samaritan city!” (Matt 10, 5).

Luke recounts an event that seems to justify this advice: when Jesus wanted to stop in a village of Samaria, its inhabitants refused to receive him (Luke 9, 51-56). And according to the Gospel of John, one of the worst insults among the Jews was to treat someone as a “Samaritan” (John 8:48).

What a contrast to the story of the meeting at Jacob’s well! Not only does Jesus cross Samaria without incident, but he is well received and stays for two days. From a historical point of view, it is unlikely that many inhabitants believed in him, as John says (John 4:39); according to the Acts of the Apostles, it was only a few years later that “Samaria accepted the word of God” (Acts 8:14).

But as Bible writers often do, John speaks in “prophetic mode”: he superimposes and unites in a single painting the brief passage of Jesus in Samaria and the reception that his disciples would receive there later. These first disciples to be driven out of their homes were Jewish, like Jesus. They had to leave Jerusalem for Samaria because they believed in him.

At the time when John was writing, towards the end of the first century, many persecuted Christians had to ask for hospitality abroad. To recount how Jesus himself had asked for it where he was not at home was therefore an important encouragement. John does not hide the fact that requiring hospitality in enemy territory was also a trying experience for Jesus.

At Jacob’s well, the Samaritan woman first made Jesus understand that he was not necessarily welcome. She made him feel that she would decide whether he would drink or not. She makes fun of him: “You do not even have a bucket to draw water!” Jesus does not let himself be disconcerted by her teasing. He gently turns the situation around. The one who began by asking for a minimum of hospitality—a little water to drink—becomes during the conversation the one who offers unsurpassed hospitality: the spring of water that will never run dry.

Going towards those with whom we have no relations is difficult. It is easier to offer hospitality than humbly to ask for it. But Jesus shows us the way: it is by exposing ourselves to needing the hospitality of those who are strangers to us that we become capable of offering it.

- Why did Jesus expose himself to needing hospitality in enemy territory?

- What characterizes the hospitality we give, the hospitality we receive?

- Am I more comfortable when I offer hospitality or when I receive it? How do I feel when I have to ask for it?

Other bible meditations:

Printed from: - 12 November 2019
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