by miriam berg
Chapter IV

(John 4:4-42)
The first part of the fourth chapter of the fourth gospel contains the famous story of Jesus' encounter with the woman of Samaria. Again, there is no parallel story in the Synoptics, so we can only examine it to see if it is consistent with the report so far in John, or with the Synoptics generally.

This story contains Jesus' first explicit reference to himself as the Messiah (v. 26). The discourse up to that point has been about water and spirit, consistent with his previous discourses and statements in John, but nothing like it in the simple ethical and moral teachings given in the Synoptics. Now we may ask, did Jesus teach primarily a new universalist ethics of compassion and forgiveness, as reported by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, or did he teach a metaphysical view of himself and God? Could he have taught both? What part does one play in the other, or the other in the one? Can one practice compassion and forgiveness only, and is that enough? Can one accept Jesus as living water, and is that enough? If one is enough, is the other dispensable? But no matter what our answers to these questions are, the fact is still that the Synoptics contain not one claim by Jesus that he is the Messiah (save Mark 14:62, which is contradicted by the parallels in Matthew 26:64 and Luke 22:67-70, as well as by Mark 15:2, Matthew 27:11, and Luke 23:3, and also John 18:37,where Jesus always answers "You are the one who said it" rather than "I am"), and indeed contains many refusals by Jesus to acknowledge being the Messiah, starting with the Temptations, where he refuses to exercise Messianic power, through his answer to Peter and the disciples who call him the Christ -- "Tell this to no man" -- and ending with his refusal to give a "Yes" answer at his trials before the priests and before Pilate, his last public opportunity to declare himself. So the Synoptics cast doubt on John 4:26, as to whether Jesus claimed Messiahship or not. Can we believe both? or one and not the other? Which? Is it more likely that Jesus, preaching a new ethical message, would have affirmed or denied Messiahship; or is it much more likely that such claims, few as they are, would have been put in his mouth by his followers who believed that he was the Messiah? Can the same man have both claimed he was the Messiah, and also denied it, as he does in the Synoptics?

Thus all the words uttered by the woman of Samaria, and by the many of the Samaritans who, John reports, said, This is the Saviour of the world, prove nothing, in the absence of any clear statement from Jesus that he thought that he was, let alone whether he actually was or not.

(John 4:43-45)
In the next verses, we see Jesus calling himself a prophet ("a prophet hath no honor in his own country") in one of the only two quotations from Jesus which are found in all four gospels. Now it is not impossible for a prophet to be a Son of God, and both Jeremiah and Ezekiel report God as addressing them as "Son of man", but still it is telling that Jesus should so refer to himself, even here in the gospel of John. And in the Synoptics, where Jesus never once calls himself the Son of God, we find him, as well as the people, and also the narrators, referring to himself constantly as a prophet.

(John 4:46-54)
This the tale of the healing of the nobleman's son, where Jesus first refuses, then when begged tells the man that his son lives. Now there is a similar story in the Synoptics; only the man is a Roman centurion, and it is his servant who is sick, and the detail of the initial refusal is not reported; and where Jesus at first scoffs at the man's belief, as reported by John, Matthew and Luke report Jesus as affirming that the man's faith was greater than any he had found in Israel (Matt. 8:10; Luke 7:9). There is no evidence that they are the same event, other than that both are supposed to have occurred in Capernaum; but the similarities are so striking, and the details reported by John are all in the direction of exaggeration as might be expected from verbal storytelling, that we are justified in assuming that they are the same event. But in either case what is this initial haughty refusal, reminding us of his retort to his mother on the occasion of the magical transformation of water into wine in Cana ("Woman, what have I to do with thee?") previously noted? And John claims further that this is the second sign done by Jesus, whereas Matthew, Mark, and Luke report that Jesus said, There shall no sign be given unto this generation (Matt. 16:4; Mark 8:12; Luke 11:29). Whom are we to believe? the John who so far has consistently exaggerated and theologized, or the Mark and the others who report events simply and with little commentary?

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