‘I who speak to you am He.’
Here Jesus rests, reclined (assumed) against the well, speaking with a Samaritan woman who has come to the well to collect water in the heat of the mid-day.
Having recently experienced the advent season, the “‘I who speak to you am He’” is a testament to the fact that the Messiah, the one called Christ has come…God’s great promised mission to rescue and redeem from sin and darkness his beloved is underway. I won’t speak for you, but these words give me great comfort.
The Word Descends to Great Depths
For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ either is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. (Deut. 30:11-14)
We know how this story works out, how it all unfolds after Deuteronomy. They can’t do it. We can’t do it. It turns out that merely hearing does not invoke doing. The first word came and was delivered down, given to the Israelites to be heard and obeyed. Deut. 6, the Shema, calls for similar hearing and doing—it’s what shema means, actually: to hear so deeply in your heart that you do. The law was given and it was given in love (the first use of the Law): here, here it is what I require, now do it (Deut. 30:14). But the law can’t cause what it requires; it’s static. It cannot cause what it requires, and because we are unable to do it, this first word condemns us (what we often call the second use of the Law).
Another word had to come. And interestingly, this word (this Word!) descends from heaven (John 1:1ff) and also crosses the sea (Matt. 14:24ff)…we do not have to go up to heaven nor cross the sea to retrieve this word just as the Israelites didn’t have to with the first word. It is sent to us. This word, the Word of the gospel is the dynamic word that gets added to the first word, the Law. Jesus is the fulfillment of the shema; this second word causes itself to be heard, “He who has ears let him hear,” Jesus says…and people hear. We are living proof of that. (John 1:1-5, 14-18)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. It was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it….And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.
This second word, the Word made flesh, is, according to the Gospel of John, a dynamic Word that knows no boundaries of darkness that it can’t illuminate. Even in our story, in John 4, Jesus the Word is physically down low, he sits besides the well. Jesus, the Word made flesh, dwells low, in a Samaritan village talking to a Samaritan woman who is ostracized by others. When everyone else wouldn’t dare talk with her—and even didn’t want to talk with her—because of her history and present actions, the word does, Jesus does. No one is too far off or too sinful for the word. The word goes into the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it. The Word descends to great depths.
The Word Exposes
‘Go call your husband, and come here.’ ‘I have no husband.’ ‘You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.’ (John 4:16)
We just read that the light, the word made flesh, exposes the darkness and the darkness will not and cannot overcome it. The word exposes the very darkness of our hearts, how very dark our hearts are. The word exposes how there is no health in us. “I have no husband” “You are right, you have had five…” Jesus tells her she is right in what she has spoken, but he continues and exposes more of the situation—the fullness of the situation, the reality of the situation.
The Word exposes just how bad the situation is. It’s not the occasional slip up here and there; it is the fact that our hearts are sick, ill, turned to stone. Deut. 30: 6 reads, “And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” And this follows after Deut. 10:16, “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.” But we can’t. We ourselves can’t circumcise out own heart. No matter how hard we try, we are too sick to heal ourselves and we need an other, apart from us, to rescue us, to save us, to heal us. Part of the fulfillment of the promise is that God, not us, will circumcise our hearts which will result in life, entails exposure. In order to be healed, to be rescued, the fullness of the situation must be revealed; we need to see just how bad the situation is. The Word exposes: your heart is stone, you are sick, you need help. And this realization, this seeing-things-in-this-way-for-the-first-time is not easy. It’s painful. The centrifugality of the Word made flesh radically pierces through our calcified hearts, rendering them fleshy and vulnerable…
But…The word guides the hearer not to shame but to comfort.
Jesus does not give up on the Samaritan woman. Jesus has already, (John 4:10) who he who was speaking to her, but she doesn’t get it. And when she doesn’t get it, he doesn’t leave it be but tells her plainly, “I who speak to you am He,” I who speak to you am the Christ, what you are looking for and expecting; I am is here. This is good and comforting news.
John, in the immediate chapter before this, declares, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (3:16). Paul writes in his letter to the Romans (8:1), “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The word exposes, but since it is a word of comfort, of love—of radical unceasing, never stopping, never giving up, pursuant love—the exposure carries with it no shame or disgrace or condemnation. In the Gospel and by the Gospel the truth of our situation is revealed, and we are rendered naked, yet this time—unlike in Gen 3—we do not have any reason to hide because the one who reveals, the word that reveals loves us. None of us is less dirty than the other, the playing field is leveled. We are revealed and loved—thoroughly and unconditionally loved.
And, it’s not blind ignorance to our sin—Jesus doesn’t just look the other way—but, “You have five husbands”…in other words, “I see it and know and I love you.” And, because the Word is a rescuing Word, and John has already clued us in to the rescue plan: it’s also, “I love you so much that I will and am rescuing you from it.” This time our response is repentance and love rather than shame and hiding.
“I who speak to you am He.”
Shema, O Israel. Hear, all of you, the word of God and be comforted….
(All photos by Josiah Miller)