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Commentary on John - Volume 1
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John 4:1-9

1. When, therefore, the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, (2. Though Jesus himself did not baptize, but his disciples,) 3. He left Judea, and departed again into Galilee. 4. And it was necessary that he should pass through Samaria. 5. He came, therefore, into the city of Samaria, which is called Sichar, near a field which Jacob gave to his son Joseph. 6. And Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, fatigued by the journey, was thus sitting on the well, for it was about the sixth hour. 7. A woman came from Samaria to draw water. Jesus saith to her, Give me to drink. 8. For the disciples had gone into the city to buy food. 9. The Samaritan woman saith to him, How dost thou, who art a Jew, ask drink from me, who am a Samaritan woman? For the Jews hold no intercourse with the Samaritans.

 

1. When, therefore, the Lord knew. The Evangelist, intending now to give an account of the conversation which Christ had with a Samaritan woman, begins with explaining the cause of his journey. Knowing that the Pharisees were ill-disposed towards him, he did not wish to expose himself to their anger before the proper time. This was his motive for setting out from Judea. The Evangelist thus informs us that Christ did not come into Samaria with the intention of dwelling there, but because he had to pass through it on his way from Judea to Galilee; for until, by his resurrection, he should open up the way for the gospel, it was necessary that he should be employed in gathering the sheep of Israel to which he had been sent. That he now favored the Samaritans with his instruction was an extraordinary and almost accidental occurrence, if we may be allowed the expression.

But why does he seek the retirement and lurking-places of Galilee, as if he were unwilling to be known, which was highly to be desired? I reply, he knew well the proper way to act, and made such use of the opportunities of usefulness that he did not allow a moment to be lost. He wished, therefore, to pursue his course with regularity, and in such a manner as he judged to be proper. Hence too we hear that our minds ought to be regulated in such a manner that, on the one hand, we may not be deterred by any fear from going forward in duty; and that, on the other hand, we may not too rashly throw ourselves into dangers. All who are earnestly desirous to pursue their calling will be careful to maintain this moderation, for which they will steadily follow the Lord even through the midst of deaths; they will not rush into them heedlessly, but will walk in their ways. Let us, therefore, remember that we must not advance farther than our calling demands.

That the Pharisees had heard. The Pharisees alone are mentioned by the Evangelist as having been hostile to Christ; not that the other scribes were friendly, but because this sect was at that time in the ascendant, and because they were filled with rage under the pretense of godly zeal. It may be asked, Did they envy Christ that he had more disciples, because their stronger attachment to John led them to promote his honor and reputation? The meaning of the words is different; for though they were formerly dissatisfied at finding that John collected disciples, their minds were still more exasperated, when they saw that a still greater number of disciples came to Christ. From the time that John avowed himself to be nothing more than the herald of the Son of God, they began to flock to Christ in greater crowds, and already he had almost completed his ministry. Thus he gradually resigned to Christ the office of teaching and baptizing.

2. Though Jesus himself baptized not. He gives the designation of Christs Baptism to that which he conferred by the hands of other, in order to inform us that Baptism ought not to be estimated by the person of the minister, but that its power depends entirely on its Author, in whose name, and by whose authority, it is conferred. Hence we derive a remarkable consolation, when we know that our baptism has no less efficacy to wash and renew us, than if it had been given by the hand of the Son of God. Nor can it be doubted that, so long as he lived in the world, he abstained from the outward administration of the sign, for the express purpose of testifying to all ages, that Baptism loses nothing of its value when it is administered by a mortal man. In short, not only does Christ baptize inwardly by his Spirit, but the very symbol which we receive from a mortal man ought to be viewed by us in the same light as if Christ himself displayed his hand from heaven, and stretched it out to us. Now if the Baptism administered by a man is Christ’s Baptism, it will not cease to be Christ’s Baptism whoever be the minister. And this is sufficient for refuting the Anabaptists, who maintain that, when the minister is a wicked man, the baptism is also vitiated, and, by means of this absurdity, disturb the Church; as Augustine has very properly employed the same argument against the Donatists.

5. Which is called Sichar Jerome, in his epitaph on Paula, thinks that this is an incorrect reading, and that it ought to have been written Sichem; and, indeed, the latter appears to have been the ancient and true name; but it is probable that, in the time of the Evangelist, the word Sichar was already in common use. As to the place, it is generally agreed that it was a city situated close to Mount Gerizzim, the inhabitants of which were treacherously slain by Simeon and Levi, (Genesis 34:25,) and which Abimelech, a native of the place, afterwards razed to its foundations, (Judges 9:45.) But the convenience of its situation was such that, a third time, a city was built there, which, in the age of Jerome, they called Neapolis By adding so many circumstances, the Apostle removes all doubt; for we are clearly informed by Moses where that field was which Jacob assigned to the children of Joseph, (Genesis 48:22.) It is universally acknowledged, also, that Mount Gerizzim was near to Shechem. We shall afterwards state that a temple was built there; and there can be no doubt that Jacob dwelt a long time in that place with his family.

And Jesus, fatigued by the journey. He did not pretend weariness, but was actually fatigued; for, in order that he might be better prepared for the exercise of sympathy and compassion towards us, he took upon him our weaknesses, as the Apostle shows that

we have not a high priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, (Hebrews 4:15.)

With this agrees the circumstance of the time; for it is not wonderful that, being thirsty and fatigued, he rested at the well about noon; for as the day, from sunrise to sunset, had twelve hours, the sixth hour was Noon When the Evangelist says that he sat thus, he means that it was the attitude of a man who was fatigued

7. A woman came from Samaria. When he asks water from the woman, he does it not merely with the intention of obtaining an opportunity to teach her; for thirst prompted him to desire to drink. But this cannot hinder him from availing himself of the opportunity of instruction which he has obtained, for he prefers the salvation of the woman to his own wants. Thus, forgetting his own thirst, as if he were satisfied with obtaining leisure and opportunity for conversation, that he might instruct her in true godliness, he draws a comparison between the visible water and the spiritual, and waters with heavenly doctrine the mind of her who had refused him water to drink.

9. How dost thou, who art a Jew? This is a reproach, by which she retorts upon him the contempt which was generally entertained by his nation. The Samaritans are known to have been the scum of a people gathered from among foreigners. Having corrupted the worship of God, and introduced many spurious and wicked ceremonies, they were justly regarded by the Jews with detestation. Yet it cannot be doubted that the Jews, for the most part, held out their zeal for the law as a cloak for their carnal hatred; for many were actuated more by ambition and envy, and by displeasure at seeing the country which had been allotted to them occupied by the Samaritans, than by grief and uneasiness because the worship of God had been corrupted. There was just ground for the separation, provided that their feelings had been pure and well regulated. For this reason Christ, when he first sends the Apostles to proclaim the Gospel, forbids them to turn aside to the Samaritans, (Matthew 10:5.)

But this woman does what is natural to almost all of us; for, being desirous to be held in esteem, we take very ill to be despised. This disease of human nature is so general, that every person wishes that his vices should please others. If any man disapproves of us, or of any thing that we do or say, 7373     “Et qui reprouve ce que nous disons ou faisons.” we are immediately offended without any good reason. Let any man examine himself, and he will find this seed of pride in his mind, until it has been eradicated by the Spirit of God. This woman, therefore, knowing that the superstitions of her nation were condemned by the Jews, now offers an insult to them in the person of Christ.

For the Jews hold no intercourse with the Samaritans. These words I consider to have been uttered by the woman. Others suppose that the Evangelist added them for the sake of explanation, and, indeed, it is of little consequence which meaning you prefer. But I think it more natural to believe that the woman jeers at Christ in this manner: “What? Is it lawful for you to ask drink from me, when you hold us to be so profane?” If any prefer the other interpretation, I do not dispute the point. Besides, it is possible that the Jews carried their abhorrence of the Samaritans beyond proper bounds; for as we have said that they applied to an improper purpose a false pretense of zeal, so it was natural for them to go to excess, as almost always happens with those who give way to wicked passions.


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