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Gospel of John 4: 7-15, 31-34 (NIV)
7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?”
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.
15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”
32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”
33 Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”
34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”
When Jesus taught about spiritual matters and the kingdom of God he used parables and figures of speech including hyperbole, simile and, as in the verses above from John 4, metaphors. Occasionally he would explain the meaning of his parables. In Luke 8: 9-10 he explained to his disciples why he taught in parables:
His disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that,
‘though seeing, they may not see;
though hearing, they may not understand.’”
Often his figures of speech remained opaque to those listening to him. Engaged in conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well outside Sychar, he used water as a metaphor (verse 14). Her reply suggests she did not comprehend; she reckoned that Jesus’ “living water” would prevent her from having a physical thirst and from having to keep coming to the well to draw water.
Later Jesus spoke to his disciples about his doing the will of the Father. He used a metaphor concerning food. Evidently the disciples did not understand his meaning. Presumably they were thinking about the food they had just purchased in Sychar.
Do we fully understand what Jesus seeks to teach us and to tell us as we read and engage with his word in Holy Scripture? Scholars have done their best to achieve accuracy and clarity in translating our modern Bibles. But each one of us brings a bias to our reading of Scripture and an individual interpretation of the meaning of words. We need to be aware of this. We must ask the Holy Spirit to guide us in our reading and in our understanding of God’s message for us.
Lord, open our hearts to your word and your words to our hearts, we pray. Amen.