John 4: some notes

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at Jacob’s Well

The miracle: changing hearts.

After a few days listening to excellent presentations on “Preaching in a #MeToo and #ChurchToo world” there are some comments that beg to be made:

  1. The topic is a false take on the world we live in. It is what the spin, media storm and frenzy that inundates us everywhere would have us believe: that all women are at risk from all men, or some such variation;
  2. The real take on our world, God’s creation, would include, as most Lutherans who can recognize simul justus et peccator as a helpful anthropology that informs our faith, would have to include all people as simultaneously sinners and saints.
  3. That means we cannot effectively talk about #metoo without #alltoo; i.e. abuse is not gender specific, no matter how serious men abusing women is nor how passionate we may be about correcting that horrendous, pervasive, and systemic abuse.
  4. #alltoo would be some attempt to have stories of many kinds told, irregardless the sex/gender of the perpetrator and victim. Some abuse is physical: which if not stopped ends in the perpetrator killing the victim (and children). Other abuse is psychological: which if not stopped ends in the victim dying at their own hand, and the children are at risk of dying at their own hands as well.
  5. Perhaps it is worth passing a quick hand over the stereotype (for what it is worth) that physical abuse is more a masculine type of abuse; and psychological abuse is more a feminine type of abuse. That may help us when we have not yet moved beyond stereotyping the problems and naturally then also the solutions.
  6. Which points to a common malady today: we stereotype a problem, say sexism, as caused only by men, as a result of misogyny. The solution then is to engage in misandry, the hatred of men. We trade out one perpetrator set, males, for another, female.
  7. Nelson Mandela’s example could have taught us that there is a much better way. Removing white racist rule in S. Africa, would not be made any better if replaced with black racist rule. Same sin, different perpetrators is a [terrible] solution for a [completely misunderstood] problem, which only moves us backwards, deeper into a cycle of injustice and revenge.
  8. So what has this all to do with the Samaritan woman at the well with Jesus? Quite a bit, really.
  9. For many decades it was ‘acceptable’ to describe the woman with 5 husbands, but now living with a man not her husband as a ‘loose’ woman. This is not acceptable; not because we ‘want’ to honour the woman, but because the text and the social realities of the time do not allow this as an honest interpretation of the text. If a woman had been ‘loose’ enough to have five husbands and now live with a man who was not her husband, for her adultery she would have long before been stoned to death. The men would have been treated less harshly. That’s sexism; bad unjust sexism.
  10. Now, to counter decades, even centuries of this interpretation which is wrong (it contradicts the text and context) comments are made to lay the blame on her husbands, who could divorce her for any small slight: read the underlying message ‘the men treat her terribly.’ After five husbands though that becomes highly unlikely to be the case in all those divorces.
  11. So the explanation expands: perhaps a few were not divorces but deaths. But she would be a widow then, a category readily named then and now as identifying a woman whose husband has died.
  12. Further to that this is used to explain that she is with, but not married to, her last late husband’s brother, a levitic law requirement of him if his brother’s widow has no one else to marry or heirs to provide care for her. No widow is supposed to be left behind, in theory. Thus her not-husband situation is not her fault.
  13. Still the problem with this effort to cleanse this woman’s reputation is that she would most certainly be named as a widow.
  14. Now cleansing of her reputation, unjustly smeared for eons, [note the time-frame keeps getting greater?] is a necessary correction. But a correction is a step backwards if it puts us in the same situation, with just different character-sets. Before this woman was to blame for her situation; with these solutions her husbands are to blame for her situation.
  15. What possibilities are there to explain this woman’s being shunned, shamed, (she does not come with the other women to the well in the cool of the early and late day) and yet that she is so bold as to engage this male Jew in conversation? He demands a drink. ‘Proper’ response for her is to silently give him water to drink.
  16. But she engages Jesus in conversation. Yes, Jesus is out of line for speaking to her, a Samaritan woman, alone. But so is she for speaking back. That took ‘chutzpah’.
  17. Before going after explanations that fit the text well, it may helpful to note first: Jesus responds to her with grace after revealing he knows her well enough to know at least part of the source of her situation, coming to the well alone in the heat of the day. Jesus engages her in a conversation that gives her life, Jesus saves her that day.
  18. So what cause of her five previous husbands, and her current situation of living with a man who is not her husband fits the text and context?
  19. She could be a widow; but that Jesus names her five husbands without naming her as a widow is … odd.
  20. She could be barren, unable to give birth to children or specifically male children. But then five husbands and a not-husband? It is a bit awkward as a fit to say the least. Why would the 2nd, and especially the 3rd, 4th and 5th husbands consider her? Why the not-husband?
  21. There is one scenario that fits, no matter that some feminists will not like that it does not cleanse her reputation, it does not make her a pure saint: she could be a high functioning borderline disordered person: She could easily attract and absorb men into her life, attracting them to herself as if she had no boundaries, and then after the falling in love chemicals wear off, she could abuse them so badly with Gaslighting and wild and erratic psychotic breaks, that they either escape before it’s too late with a divorce, or end up killing themselves to be free of the profound chaos that has been drilled into them that they are responsible for, and then the cycle repeats with another man, until this last man, whatever his situation is, does not marry her, though she is with him.
  22. Realize that BPs (see Stop Walking on Eggshells for the seminal description of a borderline personality’s effect on intimate relationships) disorder is not, repeat NOT self-made. It is a result of childhood trauma, abuse and/or abandonment.
  23. Then the real marvelous miracle that Jesus works is that this woman comes to faith, to at least some healing, and the potential for new life. She has a track record of a chaotic life. But Jesus becomes her saviour! She becomes a witness to her savior, and she shares her encounter with Jesus with others, as a question, so that others may believe adn be saved as well. [Saved: they enter a relationship base on Jesus’ grace, offered and made and chosen for them by Jesus.]
  24. The real miracle of Jesus is again that Jesus changes hearts, which changes lives, which changes communities, which gives people life abundant.
  25. Why did Jesus have to go through Samaria? Because it had become known he was baptizing more converts than even John the Baptist. We know what happened to John. Jesus needs some ‘fresh’ air, a little distance from the danger he faces from his own people.
  26. And then there is this community, and the example to be made that Jesus comes to all people, poor, broken, strangers, foreigners and outsiders. The disciples will need to know that Jesus is not just the Savior of the Jews. Jesus saves everyone, women and men, Jew and Gentile, citizen, peasant, foreigner, and even in some rare cases, the wealthy.