Sunday, 27 March 2011

woman at the well...

The gospel reading for today is taken from John 4: 5-42.
It's the story of the meeting between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, at a well, in the heat of the midday sun.
There's an implication in many commentaries on the passage, and indeed, from the poem above taken from youtube, that the woman was 'dodgy'.
That she had a slightly dubious morality.
Five husbands?
Currently living with a man who was not her husband?
Knowing glances all around: we know why she's coming to the well in midday when 'normal' people come in the cool of the morning and evening.
She's sinful - 'unclean' and ashamed.

And yet, I've struggled for some time with that particular hermeneutic - the hermeneutic of shame, if you like.  Thinking back to the cultural context, I wonder if it is equally as valid to interject a hermeneutic of compassion?
So, a way of reading this text that takes into account:
  • the husbands: we do not know what had happened to them.  
    • Divorce was easy to get, a matter of the chap getting a certificate and that was that. [Mt 19:7; Mk 10:2-5].  Through potentially very little fault of her own, the husbands could have just dumped her really rather easily.
    • There was also the case of Levirate marriage.  Had she been unfortunate enough to have been married down the brotherly line.  This is not to suggest all five were brothers, but it does give an interesting twist to the tale even if a couple of them were.  [see Mt 22: 23-33; Mk 12: 18-27; Lk 20: 27-40]  Perhaps her reputation was more about being 'the kiss of death' if you were unlucky enough to marry her...?  Small village, rumours, fearful people, not always a winning combination.
  • the man she was living with: we know nothing about her family.  No mention of parents or siblings.  Was she alone?  For her own protection, was it safer for her to attach herself to a chap than be alone?  And for a woman to live alone was rather unthinkable in that culture.
I do keep wandering back to this unnamed woman:
has she been overly, and unfairly, maligned?
Was she just doing what she needed to do to survive?
And how does the water she finds at the well through her conversation with Jesus transform her, and her village?

And then my pointing finger points back at me:
how often do I unfairly malign others/ label them/ and through doing so, dehumanise them when they don't fit in with my particular hermeneutic of life?
How do I allow the water of life that is offered transform me...and in turn, through its sharing, allow it to transform others?
Perhaps I am picking up the theme from last week again - the wideness of God's mercy.
Who do I share the water with?
Who do I refuse to give water to?

So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 
Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, 
was sitting by the well. 
It was about noon. 
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, 
“Give me a drink.” 
(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 
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.) 
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.” 
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!” 
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.” 
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.” 
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.”
Just then his disciples came. 
They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, 
but no one said, 
“What do you want?” 
or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 
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. ...

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him 
because of the woman’s testimony, 
“He told me everything I have ever done.” 
So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; 
and he stayed there two days. 
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.”

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