In the Lent groups last week we were looking at what brought us each to faith – whether there where things we had in common, or whether our stories were quite different.
In the group I was in I think one of the things that we felt we had in common was a sense of having, at some stage in your life, to make a choice for yourself about God and about Jesus. Did you believe the stuff you have heard? – or not.
As we hear John telling is the conversation between Jesus and the woman at the well, we might feel that here is a familiar sort of story . Jesus meets a woman, they get to talking about something ordinary - water – but slowly the woman realizes that this person Jesus is extraordinary and it slowly dawns on her that he could be the Messiah. And so off she goes to tell other people what she has found.
If you look at the gospel of John as a whole, you find that this idea of meeting Jesus and having to decide for yourself what you think is a recurring theme. John uses a recurring pattern of encounters with Jesus which lead either to belief in him, or to conflict.
John makes no secret of the reason for his gospel, towards the end (after the resurrection) he writes “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”. Throughout the gospel John refers to many things that Jesus did not as miracles, but as ‘signs’, which help people to believe in him as the Messiah from God.
So how do these signs and the theme of conflict work to convince us about Jesus?
Fasten your seat-belts for a whistle-stop tour.
John begins by setting his stall out in the prologue - he is clear about who Jesus is: and equally clear that John the Baptist in NOT the Messiah.
Then comes the first 'sign' that Jesus is the Messiah (the turning of water into wine at the wedding at Cana) followed immediately by Jesus overturning the tables (a story that John puts near the start of Jesus’ ministry, not near the end as others do).
Jesus next has the conversation with Nicodemus (which the lectionary had us read last week), followed by an argument about baptism.
Then Jesus has today’s conversation with the woman at the well, and this is closely followed by the second sign (the healing of official's son) & the third sign (the healing of the man at the pool of Bethsaida ) followed by an argument about healing on the Sabbath & statements about Jesus' authority. Next come the fourth sign (the feeding of the 5000) & the fifth sign (Jesus walking on the water), and these are followed by 'grumbles' about Jesus saying he is the bread of life.
There then follows a really strange interlude about Jesus' brothers trying to force him into the open at the festival of shelters (ch 7) & Jesus' teaching there, followed by the much better known story of the woman caught in adultery, which results in more conflict, concluding with people picking up stones to kill Jesus (end of ch 8).
The sixth sign is the healing of the man born blind (again, on a Sabbath), followed by the Pharisees investigating the event.
Jesus teaches about his being 'the good shepherd' & this is followed by the rejection of Jesus & more threats of stoning.
The seventh sign is the raising of Lazarus, followed by more talk of 'the plot to kill Jesus', the anointing of Jesus by a woman, before his death, at Bethany, and a plot to kill Lazarus, so that the seventh sign won’t be able to be proved.
The final chapters of the gospel are taken up with the triumphal entry into Jerusalem & the last week of Jesus' life, including the longest stretch of teaching from the Last Supper in any of the gospels.
It seems to me there is a constant ebb & flow of signs of Jesus' identity & people 'believing in him' with the opposition to Jesus. Given that John himself says that the purpose of the gospel is that people will put their faith in Jesus as Messiah & have eternal life, perhaps it is not surprising that John won't let us sit on the fence about Jesus, but forces a choice - Jesus is the son of God to believe in, or Jesus is a heretic to be eliminated?
This was the choice facing the woman at the well, the choice facing everyone who met Jesus, the choice facing us. Indifference is not an option. Will you reject Jesus, decide this is all just nonsense? Or will you believe in Jesus as the Son of God who can do and say these amazing things that show us the light of God’s love?
John is also clear about the danger of believing – with the decision to believe in Jesus comes the promise to follow him in walking in God’s love, and the responsibility to care for others in Jesus’ name.
If you’re ready to take the risk of believing, the good news is he’s here for you in bread & wine – to feed and strengthen you in your choice.
So eat & drink & be very thankful.
Thanks be to God.