What gives you life? Being with friends or family? Your job? Perhaps a hobby? Serving as a volunteer? Reading? Exercise? Art? Music? As we continue studying John 4:27-42, we learn what gives Jesus life.
Earlier in the chapter, Jesus had a thought-provoking conversation with a Samaritan woman. They had a chance meeting around a well just outside her town. Jesus’ disciples had left him there and went into town to purchase food for lunch. Just as the disciples return, the woman leaves, heading back into town to tell the people there about her conversation with Jesus. While the woman is in town, we learn that Jesus and his disciples have a fascinating conversation of there own:
Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”
“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”
Jesus is talking on the symbolic level, but he knows his disciples will interpret him on the figurative level. This is classic Jesus, every moment a teaching moment. This is Jesus the disciple-maker, always ready to invest in his followers’ lives. Asking them questions. Getting them thinking. Speaking with symbolism. Challenging them. Surprising them.
Here he is using an analogy. Food doesn’t mean food. Instead, Jesus likens food to doing the will of God. Certainly there is a comparison between the two. Food energizes us. It’s like phrase, “That gives me life!” Or “I felt so alive doing that.” What we are talking about is an energizing facet of life. When we do something that we like, when we use our gifts and talents, when we create, when we help people, when we solve a problem, find a solution, fix something broken, we say, “I love that. That gives me life.”
The funny thing about life-giving activities is that they often require a lot from us. Physical toil. Mentally-strenuous focus. Lots of time. Investment of money. But when we’re done, feeling exhausted, we call it a “good tired,” a “good soreness”. In fact, we usually want to do it again, because it was life-giving.
Jesus says that is how he feels about doing the will of God. It’s what energizes him. That’s his food. So Jesus says to his disciples, that is “the food I have that you know nothing about.” I don’t get the sense that Jesus is being harsh here. I think he is just bending their minds a bit, getting them thinking.
He also expands of what he means by the will of God. He says in verse 34 that God’s will for Jesus is work that Jesus will finish. He is committed to the mission God has for him, come what may.
Then he reminds them of what was likely a common proverb, “Four more months and then the harvest,” which is basically to say that we plant, and then we have to wait. It is a gardening, farming rhythm that we know well. You do not plant a seed and then harvest the next day. You wait.
Jesus follows that proverb by saying that the four months have passed, “Friends, the fields are ripe to the harvest.” He means that they should see that the time is now. But he is not talking about farming. He is talking about lives. People.
Jesus says the reaper is harvesting to eternal life, meaning that the time is now to help bring in the harvest. Jesus is giving his disciples a vision for the urgency of the mission. What was his food, in other words, they should also see as their food: to help people enter into eternal life, to show people God’s goodness, so they can live like him in the world.
But again, remember that eternal life, for Jesus, is not simply life in heaven after death on earth. We studied this in John chapter 3. Eternal life starts now. Jesus wants to be in relationship with people now. Jesus wants people to experience the life of God’s Kingdom now. People in relationship with God also have the hope of eternal life after death. God desires relationship, restored relationship with those he loves, with us. With all people.
Jesus tells his disciples that they get to participate in this process of reaping what others have sowed, of harvesting what they did not plant. Others did that planting work. Which others? Maybe Jesus is referring to John the Baptist. We don’t know. But the planting is done, and now it is time to harvest. Now it is time to invite people into the Kingdom, to introduce them to the King. To Jesus.
Just then, the Samaritan woman returns and now she has some of her townspeople with her. Remember that Jews and Samaritans are enemies. When 13 Jewish men show up in their town, how will the Samaritans handle it? We’ll find out in the next post.