As I was preparing to lead a devotional today on John’s story of the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, I noticed Jesus has a very missional moment with his disciples. Read my translation of the passage and pay close attention to the words in bold type.
John 4:25-27; 35-38
The woman says to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (the one called Christ); “whenever he comes, he will tell us everything.” 26 Jesus says to her, “I, the one speaking to you, am He.” 27 Now at that very moment His disciples came back. They were shocked because He was speaking with a woman. However, not one of them said, “What do you want?” or “Why are you speaking with her?”…
35 [Jesus says] “Don’t you say, ‘There are still four more months until the harvest comes?’ Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes to see that the fields are already white for harvest! 36 The one who reaps receives pay and gathers fruit for eternal life, so that the one who sows and the one who reaps can rejoice together. 37 For in this instance the saying is true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I have already sent you to reap what you did not work for; others have labored and you have entered into their labor.”
Look at v. 38. Did you notice how Jesus said, “I have already sent you.”? In the Greek, this verb ‘sent” is ἀπέστειλα (apostellō)—an aorist, active, indicative verb. The aorist verb tense is used to present the action of a verb as a “snapshot” event and when used in the indicative mood, it most often denotes past time. So in other words, Jesus is saying to his disciples, “there is a point in time where I have already sent you into the harvest field to reap, but you have done nothing. Now, you are about to reap a harvest in which you have not sown. So sit back, watch, and learn!”
But how is this possible? When did Jesus send them?
The following commentary is one of the few I have read that address directly the meaning of “sent” and yet it seeks only to dismiss it as meaningful only for the immediate context.
The interpretation of v 38 has been rendered needlessly complex through stumbling at the aorist ἀπέστειλα, “I sent.” It is pointed out that no mention has been made of Jesus sending the disciples on mission. They have not been sent to Samaria; nor can they be said in this context to be reapers. Either then Jesus projects himself into the future and looks back on the mission on which they will engage (Schnackenburg, 1:452), or the statement is a post-Resurrection utterance, made perhaps in the light of the mission to Samaria by Philip and other Hellenist Christians (Cullmann, The Early Church, 186). That the Evangelist will have had in mind the later Samaritan mission is entirely probable; but the pressing of the terms in v 38 is illegitimate, for the Evangelist has almost certainly brought together from various contexts sayings relating to the kingdom and the mission. (emphasis mine)
George R. Beasley-Murray, vol. 36, Word Biblical Commentary : John (, Word Biblical CommentaryDallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002), 64.
Just like the disciples, many of today’s commentators are lost in the crumbs and cannot see the Bread—but there is more than cake in this passage! The common assumption made when reading this passage is that Jesus had not previously sent his disciples and therefore other reasons must be given for why Jesus says, “already sent.” Far too many people get confused by Jesus’ words and keep asking the wrong questions, “He did not already send us? What is our Rabbi talking about?”
Now look back with me to verse 8 and see what John tells us, “for his disciples had gone off into the town to buy food.” Jesus had sent the disciples into the Samaritan town to buy food; they came out with bread but they never took the time to tell the lost people of Sychar about the Bread of Life. So what does Jesus do? He enlists a Samaritan woman to be his messenger. She goes into the city and sows the seed the disciples did not sow. The disciples were so hung up on their physical need for food, they forgot that these despised half-breed Jews also needed a Savior.
As the Samaritan people come out to meet Jesus, He tries to show the disciples what they missed. They are about to reap a harvest of souls, but they themselves did not sow. The disciples just met the people of this town, but it took the testimony of a sin-impoverished woman of Samaria to reach them. The disciples were confused about the Bread and the woman was confused about the Water; yet she still took time to sow the Seed.
I wonder, when did the disciples actually get it? Did they understand what it means to sow when Jesus gave them His final commission, “as you go along the way, make disciples of all peoples.”?
You may not realize it, but you, and everyone else reading this, has already been sent by Jesus into the mission’s field.
- Jesus has sent us into our workplaces where people go to earn a living, but do we share with them how God’s riches are far better.
- Jesus has moved us into neighborhoods where people seek shelter, but have we helped them know that God is the only house of refuge.
- Jesus has placed is in earthly families where people long for acceptance, but have we shown them by example that God’s family is the only way to find true love.
- Jesus has sent us into our local Safeway where they sell, “ingredients for life”, but have we held back from sharing our secret ingredient for Life Eternal?
- Jesus has sent us into the world where we demonstrate compassion by giving food, money and medicine, but have we forgotten about the spiritual need for nourishment and healing in Jesus?
Jesus has already sent you to sow and reap a harvest, did you miss it?