4:25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.”

26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” 27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?”

Everywhere we turn in the Gospels we see Jesus upsetting conventional expectation. Here in John’s Gospel Jesus utters for the first time the most profound self-revelation. He speaks of his true identity in words that are radical and shocking.

The shock is muted in the English translation; but in the Greek the power of Jesus’ revelation hard to miss.

The uncovering begins when the woman speaks of the expectation shared by Jews and Samaritans that a Messiah is anticipated. She affirms that the “Messiah is coming” and Jesus responds in John’s text, not as the English versions have it saying, “I am he”, but with the much more dramatic statement “ego lalo eimi soi  ” – “I am speaks to you”.

The phrase “I am” is used over 300 times in the Bible to refer to God. It appears most strikingly in Exodus 3:14, a part of the Bible accepted by both Jews and Samaritans. God says to Moses,

‘I am who I am.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’

For Jesus to use this expression to refer to himself was at least provocative. The next time Jesus will utter such blasphemous words is in John 10:30 where he is reported to have said to the Jewish religious officials of the day,

I and the Father are one.

They understand immediately the outrageous claim Jesus seems to be making. In response John says, they “took up stones again to stone him” (John 10:31). The punishment for such blasphemy was death.

The Samaritan woman should have been equally shocked by Jesus’ outrageous claim. But, she does not rally the troops to stone Jesus. Instead she runs to her Samaritan countrymen and delivers an extraordinary testimony of faith.

But before we get to the Samaritan woman’s moment of bold testimony, we have to deal with Jesus’ bewildered disciples who suddenly appear on the scene and are “astonished” to see their teacher talking to a woman. Not only have they missed Jesus’ profound self-revelation, entrusted to a woman, they also clearly remain ignorant of the full extent of the inclusive welcome Jesus has come to communicate. It is going to take a while for these men to get over their shock at the ways and teaching of their teacher. Sadly, history shows, they caught the vision, but soon the church lost touch with this core of Jesus’ teaching and began again erecting barriers and making distinctions.

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see a further reflection on ego eimi – the great I am statement attributed to Jesus – later today