Short Meditations in John 4: 8. Practical Realities
Jn 4:8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
When I hear people criticise scripture and suggest it is made up, I can’t help thinking, “You’ve never really read it thoughtfully otherwise you would note the small details that so often crop up that if you were writing a general account in this genre, you wouldn’t bother to include. I feel that a little bit about this verse. The fact that the translators have put it in brackets suggests that it is an aside, a bonus piece of information – but it does explain why Jesus was on his own when this woman comes to the well.
Having said that, did it need a number of men to go and do the shopping? (perhaps the twelve haven’t been formed yet and perhaps the women haven’t started going along, this is early days after all, and so maybe it is only a half dozen or so.) Is the real reason that he is alone is that he knew what was about to happen and knew that it would be best to talk to the woman alone?
The fact that the disciples had gone off into the nearby town to buy provisions suggests that, despite all we have said about the discord between Jew and Samaritan there was still interaction between them and it was still possible to buy food from them; it was not a completely hostile situation although we shall see shortly how such feelings were still there.
It is very easy to get a super-spiritual understanding of the life of Jesus when reading the Gospels because the truth is that virtually nothing is said in them about the day to day living arrangements and what life was like. I would assume that we must put this down to the fact that a) the Gospels were written a number of years after the events, b) the writers took for granted everyday life, and c) they were focusing on the all-important issues of what Jesus said and did by way of his ministry and the way he was received or rejected.
Thus this is one of the very few references to domestic arrangements we find in the Gospels. Perhaps the nearest thing we can find to this are the arrangements that Jesus makes via the disciples for his entry to Jerusalem on that last fateful time (see Mt 21:1-3), although it is not strictly about daily life but more about other practical arrangements to do with the way he would arrive prophetically into Jerusalem.
Perhaps the affairs at the home of Mary and Martha (Lk 10:38-40) would come into the category of domestic arrangements, but beyond these things little or nothing else is covered. This should not make us feel these things didn’t happen; we are dealing with a bunch of men (and later women) travelling together and so they do, and they experience similar things we would when travelling.