Thought for the Day by Jan Betts (All Hallows’)
Reading: John 4:1-26
The wonderful, dynamic story of the Samaritan woman meeting Jesus, alone at a well in a huge breach of cultural norms, has long been regarded as a classic example of a woman who was ‘no better than she ought to be’ being ‘rebuked’ and forgiven by Jesus. But even that limited and frankly very one sided interpretation of the encounter only addresses Act 1 of the event and misses some of the point of the story. Act 1 and Act 2 both have something to say about how we meet with those who might be ‘strangers’.
Jesus had a soft spot for Samaritans, people despised by the Jews. They were people who shared a common ancestry with Jewish people through being descended from Abraham and Joseph but who had taken a different path and believed, as they do today, that Mount Gerizim is the Holy Mountain, not the Temple Mount of Jerusalem. Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan who ignored ritual laws of uncleanness in his compassionate response to an immediate need. The Samaritan was prepared to overlook and discard barriers of belief and heritage when a fellow human being simply needed help. The Samaritan, the ‘other’, modelled God in the world.
How does Jesus behave in this chance encounter with a ‘despised’ woman? We know he can be fierce over shaming people he thinks need shaming. He was never afraid to shame Jewish religious leaders, but he is always respectful to women, especially or because they could be so subject to male condemnation or exploitation. So he respects her. He asks her for something, exposing his own need – always a good way to start a conversation – then goes on to have a discussion about theology and cultural heritage, gently drawing her in and showing he regards her as an equal, a thoughtful woman on her own ground. He’s the intruder here so he doesn’t claim one upmanship, but again discards the barriers of heritage. He earns her listening ear, and the comment about her husband is not about shaming her but about bringing her salvation. She recognises through this perception that he has more to offer than an interesting conversation and honestly and openly continues the discussion. Jesus loves this, loves her thoughtful honesty and receptiveness, and is able to respond to her implied question about the Christ with a simple declaration which she is very excited to hear.
Who are the people we might meet, who might interrupt us in some way, who are utterly unlike us and who we think are unlikely to respond to Jesus? What might the Spirit be doing in them? How do we meet them in fearless love and respect and let them lead us to talk of Jesus?