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Yr A ~ Lent 3 ~ John 4:5–30
It was absolutely scandalous!
If you knew more about their culture you’d know just how scandalous it really was.
Women and men simply didn’t speak with one another if they weren’t with others, and it was definitely a no-no for a good Jew to speak with the despised Samaritans, and even more so a Samaritan woman. Speaking to her would have made Jesus “unclean” by Jewish standards.
On top of all that, women normally gathered for water early in the day and it was a social time for them – but this encounter takes place at noon suggesting that our heroine was not welcome in the morning group. That makes her an outcast – probably because of her multiple marriages.
And in the conversation between her and Jesus she is certainly not demure and deferential – she’s giving as good as she gets! So this is a culturally scandalous scene.
And if you knew more about theology you’d know that it was indeed absolutely scandalous, but for completely different reasons.
It was absolutely scandalous that Jesus’ disciples would look at something that Jesus, their mentor, was doing and because it crossed some of the accepted social norms of their day they assumed the worst. It was scandalous that these religious guys were so quick to judge.
It was scandalous that they couldn’t see the transformation that had just happened.
And it was scandalous that the disciples didn’t see that while they were off trying to meet their low level need for sustenance this ostracized woman was awakening to a much deeper need within herself.
The storytelling here is problematic because there are several things that don’t make much sense. Jesus and the disciples were travelling through somewhat hostile territory because Jews and Samaritans were enemies, so for a dozen disciples to all go into town for food and leave Jesus all alone is highly unlikely.
And the bit in the middle about Jesus telling the woman how many husbands she’d had doesn’t serve much of a theological purpose other than sullying her character.
But if we take the story in broad strokes and don’t get too hung up on some of its quirks there is some wonderful theology and spirituality in it.
It’s no accident that this story is placed right after the story of Nicodemus that we looked at last week. The juxtaposition is intriguing! Nicodemus was an upstanding man who came to Jesus under the cloak of night, representing secrecy and unknowing.
In contrast, this woman was presumably a disgraced person who came to Jesus in the full light of day.
You’ll notice that Jesus welcomed them both. He made no judgements.
And to both he offered profound insights into the nature of spirituality – and both of them pretty much missed the point. At first.
Like we talked about last week, Jesus is offering a profound paradigm shift from a religious world of rules and regulations to a personal, spiritual relationship with the Holy Mystery we call God. Nicodemus learned that to embrace that new paradigm is like being born anew. Now it’s the woman at the well’s turn. read on