Tuesday, March 18, 2014

How is it that you ask a drink of me a woman of Samaria?

Last week we were introduced to Nicodemus who comes to Jesus by night. This week in John 4:5-42 we encounter the Samaritan woman who Jesus meets at noon at the well. The contrast between Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman is striking: Nicodemus is a Pharisee, an insider, an acknowledged Jewish leader. He is a man, he has a name, but he comes to Jesus by night. The character to whom we are introduced in this week's text is a Samaritan, a religious and political outsider. She is a woman; is not given a name, but she meets Jesus in full daylight. As if their encounters were not strange enough, the contrast between Nicodemus’ and the Samaritan woman’s conversations with Jesus were even more extraordinary. Whereas Nicodemus is unable to move beyond the confines of his religious convention, the Samaritan moves outside of her religious experiences and engages Jesus in an in-depth dialogue. As such she has no trouble reminding Jesus of what separates them -- he a Jew and she a Samaritan -- and of what connects them -- their ancestor Jacob, at whose well they meet.  While Nicodemus cannot understand that Jesus is sent by God, Jesus tells the woman at the well who he is as he reveals to her his “name,” I am he… How is it that this woman who meets Jesus briefly, dares to “wonder out loud” if he is the Messiah, while the apostles, still not quite convinced, continue to safely address him as teacher, “rabbi?”

The striking disparity between Nicodemus and the woman at the well underscores Jesus’ love for what society characterizes as the outsiders. The Samaritan woman at the well immediately recognizes the societal barriers and boundaries that keep her in her place but yet she is willing to challenge Jesus' authority over their ancestors of the faith. She is not certain that Jesus is the Christ but she does not let that stop her from leaving behind her water jar, going into the city, and inviting the people to their own encounter with Jesus: "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.”

The woman at the well shows us that faith is about an ongoing dialogue; about growth and change. It is not about having all the answers. If we think we have all the answers, if we are content with our faith just the way it is and are comfortable with our tried and true convictions, we may miss the opportunity to grow and be transformed and will lack the confidence to be able to ask others to "come and see."

Another issue, perhaps for another discussion and another time, has to do with organized religions’ pronouncements on women and sexuality. At no time does Jesus condemn or judge her as society and organized religions have. Where did these rules come from? Shouldn’t we finally rise above phony moralism and misplaced misogyny that has characterized so much of Judeo-Christian theology? This is really a story about the transforming power of love and not about a story about a woman who like us is no less human. After all, Jesus received the Cup from this “scandalous” woman, and she shares it with us in her joy at being loved.


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