The Disciples at the Well, part 2

There was a bit more going on with the disciples at the episode in Sychar. I think we can see between the lines a pattern that had been developing in the process of discipleship. The key is to consider why Jesus was alone resting by the well at noon in the first place. The text says that the disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Pause. All twelve of the disciples had gone into the Samaritan city to buy their food. I am reminded of the old series of jokes and this one would run something like: how many disciples does it take to change a light bulb? Were they buying so much food that it would take all twelve of them to carry it back? Judas was the one who handled their money. Why not just send Judas on the errand? It could have been too much food for one man to conveniently carry, but surely Judas could have taken one other disciple with him to do the errand.

It is more peculiar when we consider the explanation for their absence: Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. No dealings at all? None? How about buying food from them? How about buying food from Samaritans that might not be prepared according to the strict Jewish dietary laws? Kosher was not the elaborate thing in those days that it is now, I suppose, but still there could have been problems. Presumably the disciples would ordinarily have planned their provisions better to avoid having to stop at a Samaritan city, but this time they hadn’t; or perhaps the journey was slow enough going in Samaria that there was just no avoiding the necessity of getting something to eat from them. The disciples had passed through Samaria often enough, as many as three times a  year going to the required feasts in Jerusalem. There was no doubt a routine they knew well to avoid as far as possible any contact with the Samaritans.

But this time all twelve of them had to go into the foreign city and left their Rabbi alone. It requires some explanation, and I think the reason is an embarrassing one. They were tired of being with Him. Their Rabbi, who had so impressed them that they had dropped everything to follow Him, was just beginning to grate on their nerves. I said in my previous post that the honeymoon was over; that first initial enthusiasm they had felt for Jesus and the signs and wonders he kept doing had gradually become replaced by disappointment as He failed to meet each of their expectations one by one. Even before He did something as absurd as talking to the Samaritan woman He had been doing other things, little things, that had given them pause over the past year. John himself did not mention the gradual accumulation of irritating habits, and puzzling teachings, that they had been noticing in their Rabbi, but the other gospel writers filled in some of those details.

The disciples were just not sure anymore if Jesus was the man they had thought He would be. The signs, the miracles – they were great when it meant more wine for the feasting; and it was bracing the way He had turned over those tables in the Temple and refuted everything the rulers said against him, even when they didn’t understand what he meant themselves. But the truth was that on some days they just felt like they didn’t want to be around Him for a while. Sometimes they just needed a break and so when Judas was sent off to buy the food they suddenly all felt that it would be nice to do some sight seeing themselves. After their journey of the morning it would have sounded lame to say they needed to stretch their legs, but they would have found some other lame excuse.

But if they felt in a better mood when they got back it was all spoiled when they found Jesus talking with a woman. Luckily she went away pretty quickly and they could get on with their lunch and get on with the journey homeward. But oddly Jesus didn’t seem enthusiastic about eating the food they had brought. They had to urge Him. “Come on, Rabbi. Eat something.” But He said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” Had that woman given Him something? Had someone else been there with some bread? But how would He have paid for it? We had the money? Why is He so weird all the time?

But Jesus was not talking about food. In fact, He was talking about them. He was talking about their irritation and disaffection with Him. He was talking, in fact, about how they had not progressed very far in discipleship, about how they still did not understand what He was doing. His food was to do the will of Him who sent Him, and to accomplish His work, and the disciples didn’t know about it. They didn’t think about doing God’s will. They didn’t understand what His work was. They wouldn’t even know if they were accomplishing His work or not. That was the kind of disciples they were: clueless.

But I don’t think Jesus was irritated with them the way they were  irritated with Him. He knew them, and He had chosen them knowing full well how they were going to be. You can’t disappoint someone who knows you better than you know yourself. Jesus was simply teaching them. However disaffected they might be, He was there to teach them and He knew they would go through their clueless phase of development before they would arrive at some maturity. And I think it is all part of a natural course of development that Jesus understood and accepted and worked with.

Developmentally, a disciple grows like a child. First there is infancy – total dependence and love and need for the parent. Then there is adolescence – when everything the parent does is stupid and uncool and embarrassing. Then there is maturity – when the child understands what it means to be part of the family and begins to consciously live like a member of the family. Jesus understood and accepted people as they were; He knew we are dust; and He knew that we need time and patience to grow. He knew, better than anyone, both how to be a son and how to be a father. Even He had to learn and grow into His Father’s work – the family business as it were.

But we don’t remember. We don’t know. We judge ourselves and each other in ways that Jesus never judges. We judge ourselves and each other stupidly, and if there is one thing He isn’t it is stupid. We expect the infancy stage of discipleship, our own or the others around us, to last forever, or to skip the adolescent phase and go right on in to maturity. We condemn our fellow disciples who are adolescent disciples, we make no effort to conceal our impatience at their lack of maturity, or what we think of their childish behavior. We violate the most basic of Jesus’ commands: not to judge. And to not judge means to not set up standards for other people and expect them to meet those standards, even if they are the standards we set for ourselves.

Jesus said to His disciples – and He says it to me and to you, however mature you may think you are – “I have food to eat that you do not know about”. He wasn’t condemning the disciples for their ignorance; He was teaching them, explaining what they would not understand perhaps for years yet, but putting remarks in their minds that they would remember eventually with dawning realization. I want each of you to take this to heart, each of you who reads this post: you are those disciples. He has food to eat that you do not know about. Don’t think you have arrived. And quit judging your fellow disciples. They aren’t as immature as you think they are and you aren’t as mature as you think you are. Quit urging your brothers and sisters to eat, when it is you that needs to pause and re-consider your own diet.

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4 Comments on “The Disciples at the Well, part 2”


  1. I thought maybe he sent them all to town cause he needed a break from them and maybe to push them into cross cultural dialogs that they wouldn’t otherwise chose, no? Kind of like “it’s time to show you how little you know”


    • Maybe so. Sort of like a tired parent who has been talking to children all day and needs some adult time? They certainly did need the cross cultural experience, though if that was His purpose it didn’t seem to take. It was there response to the woman when they got back that made me think they were irritated with Him.
      It is certainly good to hear from you. I think of you and Ed often and pray that all is well with you and your family. You know we moved to Norwood, right? Anyway, say hello to Ed for me and God bless you.


  2. Thank you for drawing the parallel between being a disciple of Christ and a child in describing development and growth. This analogy really puts things in perspective as one considers one’s relationship with Christ.


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