Sunday, March 27, 2011

You Talkin' to Me?? Dialogue with the Samaritan Woman

For all that the Church, the institution, has done throughout history and across the board to diminish women and keep them as far from the authority roles as possible... there are just tons and tons of examples in Scripture where it was the women who prove to be the disciples of Jesus. One such case is the Samaritan woman at the well in John's gospel. She's arriving at Jacob's well at high noon to gather water and take it back down the mountain into her Samaritan village. Jesus, meanwhile, has been on a long hike to Galilee, the city where new ideas and cosmopolitan life is thriving. He stops at the well and send his disciples off to get some food. This woman arrives, and he can't resist the opportunity before him.

Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink."... The Samaritan woman said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?" (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)

I can only imagine what this must have been like for her. First of all, men aren't going to talk to women this way because they just don't do that. And secondly, Jesus is a Jew. This woman is a Samaritan. This is like a Yankees fan asking a Red Sox fan for a drink. Oh, sure: we may look a like, but we know who is our kinfolk...

Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, "Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water." The woman said to him, "Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?" Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life."

I have a feeling the Samaritan woman wasn't counting on this kind of a conversation when she went to collect her bucket of water at the well. In her head, I can imagine her trying to put this all together: "Here's this Jewish guy sitting by the well and he has no bucket, and now he's talking to me about living water that gushes up to eternal life?!?!" In a place and time where water is as valuable and important to day to day operations as we have become dependant on oil, he is talking about something that sounds extraordinary and amazing.

The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water."
Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come back." The woman answered him, "I have no husband." Jesus said to her, "You are right in saying, "I have no husband'; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!"

Now she must be totally freaked out! He's talking to her, he has living water, and he knows her past and her present, too?! If I were in her shoes, I'd really be getting a little worried. "Who is this guy? And why is he insisting on talking with me? Why doesn't he let me just get my water and get out of here?"
This is a response I have felt before as I've tripped along on my own faith journey. Those moments when I sense that I am being nudged and poked are also moments when I want to dig my heels into the ground and say, "No, I don't wanna!"

She tries to find a polite exit from this dialogue:

The woman said to him, "Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem."

Ha! And now that ought to stump the Jew. The thing that will separate these two is where they worship. And still, Jesus does an akido move and redirects her to see things not in the concrete ways she's always seen them.

Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."

Barrier down. And he is still there, talking to her. And so she tries again to politely end this discussion.

The woman said to him, "I know that Messiah is coming" (who is called Christ). "When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us." Jesus said to her, "I am he, the one who is speaking to you."

Lucky for her, the disciples come back with the food. So she is able to finally get on her way. Back in her village though she tells people what she'd experienced:

Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, "Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?" They left the city and were on their way to him.

And here we see the power of this woman's testimony. She takes off without the water jar. The conversation, the longest Jesus has with anyone in the Gospels, must have done so much to her that she isn't consumed with her task of gathering water. Or maybe the conversation has made her think twice about the need for this water. After all, he's just told her that the water in the well will leave her thirsty, and what he promises is a flowing water that will feed her for her life. And she blurts it out, "Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?" I hear in the statement a sense of wonderment and awe, so much so that she can hardly make sense of it herself. Again, this is a response I can understand. When things happen that draw my focus to God and how God is moving and working in my life... it's like having my breath taken away. A real "A-ha!" That's how I read her question, "He cannot be the Messiah, can he?" It's not so much a real question, but more one that is rhetorical. She knows what she's experienced. Has it been real? "Pinch me, fellow Samaritans!" And on her testimony, they are curious enough to trudge up the mountain to seek out this man.

Meanwhile, the twelve disciples, are worried that Jesus hasn't eaten and needs to partake of the food. What they don't understand is that he just feasted in a way that is far more fulfilling to his mission on earth, and he uses this as a teaching moment:

Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, "Four months more, then comes the harvest'? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, "One sows and another reaps.' I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor."

And just to drive this point home, here comes the harvest up the hill. The Samaritans, who were on the "other side" in the split of Judah and Israel and subsequently are now considered "other" in every sense, are climbing up the mountain road to meet Jesus. In turn, he welcomes them. And he stays with them to teach them.

And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world."

Working through this woman, Jesus reaches another population with his message.

I see in this story the work of LGBT Christians as well. Like the Samaritans, the gay community has not necessarily been welcome to be in the pews of many Christian churches. And many Christian churches have condemned us all to hell and spewed forth so much hatred that its no small miracle that any of us have bothered to come back. So when one of our own kind says, "Hey, I have found a Church that doesn't hate gay people" this can pique curiosity. Feeling accepted by a faith community removes one of the major stumbling blocks for many in their path toward God and eternal life. The other is in the discovery that no matter what the people of God may have said or done, the truth about Jesus can be found in the reading assigned from Romans:

Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.

Jesus meets us where we are, not where somebody else thinks we ought to be. Those who think we ought to be the super-good and super-righteous in order to be in full relationship with Christ have missed the part where Jesus was talking to the outcasts, the "others" and inviting them to come into a relationship with him, so they could share a drink with him. A drink from a spring that gushes up to eternal life.


Phoebe said...

I like your interpretation of the woman's question to her community better than the one we heard Wed. night. Jesus always meets us where we are.. loves each and every one of us and offers us the life giving water.. if only we will accept it. Some times the ego is too big for plain old water.

PS glad the web is co-operating again.

SCG said...

Thanks, Phoebe. My access to the web wasn't in jeopardy. My website for my massage practice is another matter... and will require more time and effort that I just can't invest at the moment.
Mercury isn't supposed to be in retrograde for another couple of days; why's all this communication stuff getting messed with now?

Anonymous said...

This woman has really got it right and she left her bucket because she couldn't wait to tell her buddies and look how Jesus taught them all. I think it a great story.