Forming Faith Blog

More than Our Differences (John 4:1-42)

We notice our differences, but what do we have in common? In this story, shared physical needs, a common ancestor, and a radically inclusive God reminds us that we are connected even to our perceived enemies.

Maps on an altar with bread and wine. Using maps we can see our differences and similarities.
© 2019 Billy Kluttz – Used with permission
Another Unlikely Disciple

We meet another unlikely disciple in today’s story. In chapter 3, our Gospel writer detailed Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, a Pharisee and unexpected Jesus follower. This week, a Samaritan woman is the surprise addition to the Jesus movement. Although she comes from a different religious sect, she is a model disciple: engaging with Jesus, receiving his good news, and sharing it with others.

Geographic Differences

Our story begins with geographic and cultural differences. The narrator repeats the Samaritan setting twice in the passage’s opening verses to draw our attention (4:4-5). But although this story highlights the distinctions between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, these two characters are also connected through shared experiences, history, and faith.

Physical Similarities

We might think of the Gospel of John as more focused on the divine attributes of Jesus’ life and ministry, but, in moments such as today’s story, we are reminded that even John recognizes and retells Jesus’ very human, bodily existence. Jesus stops at Jacob’s well not because he sees the Samaritan woman there and wants to have an exchange with her, but because his body is tired (4:6). This woman also comes to the well because of a bodily need, thirst. Accordingly, this story of conversation and conversion is grounded in a context not just of difference, but also of shared physical needs.

A Shared Ancestor

Their shared need for water and rest aren’t the only things that connect the Samaritan and Jesus. This story’s setting also reminds us that the lines dividing enemies and friends, strangers and kin are never as simple as they seem. Despite their difference, Jacob is a common ancestor for both Jesus and the woman; they are literally meeting at a place of common ground at Jacob’s well.

A Welcoming God

Ultimately, Jesus and the Samaritan woman’s greatest connection comes from the same loving God. Despite their different worshipping practices, Jesus shares a vision in which both communities are connected to God through worship no longer defined by geography (4:21). Inspired by their conversation, this woman shares Jesus’ good news with her community and many Samaritans join Jesus’ movement (4:39-42).

More than Differences: Whom Are We Connected To?

The Samaritan disciple’s story reminds us that simple descriptions, such as insider and outsider, friend and foe, are always more complicated in the Reign of God to which Jesus invites us. In reading this story today, what simplistic labels might God be asking us to revisit? Where might we see our points of connection to others in new ways this week?

This week’s story also offers Christians the opportunity to think critically about our own geography. Where are the dividing lines in your neighborhood or city? You might engage maps in worship and Christian education in several ways to explore this story in-depth:

  • Ask participants to draw their own maps of their community. Present the maps to one another and look for similarities and differences in points of interest and what was included or left off the map.
  • On a map of your city, have participants place a pin where they live. Do you notice patterns or emptier spaces? Likewise, map the churches in your denomination or the local mission sites of your congregation. Are they clustered in certain areas?
  • Use digital resources to explore the history of redlining and racial segregation in your city or state. How are those patterns of racial separation still present today in your neighborhood?
  • Create a prayer map, such as the one in the photo above, by allowing participants to mark a place they would like to pray for. Display the maps in the worship space so that others can add their prayers to them.

In Christ,


Rev. Billy Kluttz serves as Associate Pastor at Govans Presbyterian Church (USA) in Baltimore, Maryland where he focuses on children and family ministries, community engagement, and communications. He is also the co-host of the TLDR Bible Show, a humorous Bible summary and discussion podcast, and a Doctor of Ministry candidate at Wesley Theological Seminary.

Free Resource

During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: Sept 12 to June 5), we provide a free resource download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download a free activity “Refreshing Water” from our home-based family curriculum Living the Word: God’s Story @ Home (NL) designed to be used at home but can be used in any intergenerational faith formation!

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