“Come and see.”

It is a familiar phrase for we who have been walking through the Gospel of John since late December.

“Come and see,” Jesus said to two disciples who asked him where he was staying (John 1:39).

“Come and see,” Philip said when Nathanael asked if anything good can come out of Nazareth (John 1:46).

And now in this Sunday’s reading from John 4 we hear the Samaritan woman invite the people from her city of Sychar to “come and see a man who has told me everything I’ve done. Could this man be the Christ?” (John 4:29).

Late July sunset view from my backyard in Carmel.

Come and see.

“Hey, Daddy, come and see what I did!” This is the enthusiastic invitation so many children extend to their parents and older siblings, teachers and friends. “Come and see!”

Whenever I see a great Indiana sky around sunset, I’ll often text my dear wife and kids and tell them, “go outside and look west – the sky is gorgeous. Go and see!” I’ll snap pictures and share them with friends. You’ve got to see these great Indiana skies.

“Come and see.” Words of invitation, excitement, promise. Words spoken by a woman who had met the Christ.

In Sunday’s reading Jesus meets a woman at a well. In ancient storytelling this was a common set-up, kind of like two people on the street colliding and their papers flying everywhere and their eyes meet as they pick up their belongings (thanks to Professor Rolf Jacobson of Luther Seminary for that image). We should expect a special encounter when people meet at a well.

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This well is outside of town, in an area that was somewhat secluded. In this secluded area Jesus speaks with a woman. A woman of a despised religion. A woman who has had several husbands. Jesus here brings into his presence and circle an outsider, one who would normally be rejected. The cultural/religious lines that Jesus crosses here are many. But crossing lines is what Jesus – and this strong woman – does.

On the woman’s five husbands

The text tells us that this woman had five husbands, and the Christian tradition has endlessly – and unhelpfully – speculated as to the meaning of this. There is no reason to think she is a “woman of ill repute,” a prostitute or any such thing. She could be the victim of serial abandonment or sexual predation in a male-dominated culture where husbands could leave their wives without cause. What we do know about her is that she is a woman who engages Jesus thoughtfully and powerfully on matters of faith and life, is transformed by her encounter with Christ, and who leads others to know faith in Jesus Christ. Let’s see her for who she is – a strong woman who calls out Jesus for violating social norms (John 4:9), testifies to her faith (John 4:12, 25), and becomes one of the first evangelists as she returns to her city to tell others about the Christ. And, let’s note that Jesus neither condemns her nor tells her to “sin no more” (as we read in another story in John 8:11). If Jesus doesn’t call her out on any sin, we needn’t do so either.

Come and see. It’s an invitation to experience and to relationship. The woman, as one who was known and welcomed by our Lord, becomes one who shares knowledge of and invitation to the Lord with others. It is this newcomer, this outsider brought in despite all the religious and cultural barriers, who becomes a witness for Jesus … not only in her words, but in her whole being. The outsider has been brought in.

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