III - 2008
Woman of Samaria: Millennium goals, 1,3,& 7
John the Evangelist, had he lived in another time, could have been a great
play-right or screenwriter. Any number of biblical commentators have
written about the rich scenes, dialogue, speeches and characters that give
life to his telling of the good news.
sets the stage for the meeting between Jesus and the woman of Samaria.
Centuries before the birth of Christ the Assyrians conquered ancient
Northern Israel. A large portion of the population was deported. Some
Israelites were allowed to remain behind. The Assyrians imported colonists
into the captured territory from Bablyonia. Some colonists and Israelites
intermarried. Their descendants were the Samaritans. A troubled history of
suspicion and hostility characterized the relationship between Samaritans
and Jews of Jesus day.
enters Samaria and sits down by a well in the noonday heat. When a
Samaritan woman comes to draw water from the well, Jesus says to her 'Give
me a drink'. His terse demand sets the tone for the conversation that
follows. The woman replies "How is that you, a Jew, ask a drink of
me, a woman of Samaria?" Her question, about her being both a
Samaritan and a woman, is underscored when the disciples return. They are
astonished that Jesus is found talking publicly with her. Social norms
should prevent Jesus from addressing the woman in public. Did she think
him disrespectful? If she were of his own kind, would he be so bold as to
address her like this? Was it because she is a Samaritan that he felt he
could ask a woman for a drink? She sees he has no cup. Where is the
religious sensitivity she has heard about? Surely, he is not going to
break the rules of his religion and share her drinking vessel. What is
this about? Then the ground of the conversation shifts. Jesus is now
offering her water, water that will quench thirst forever. The woman's
reply is sardonic. Perhaps there is a roll of the eyes with the sense of
'right, by all means, give me this water, save me the daily trip to this
now she is feeling less threatened. Perhaps this is just a person begging
for water, or some sort of preacher, or both. She offers up the
information that she has no husband. How do like that situation Mr.
preacher of living water! The conversation turns. Her revelation, about
the lack of a husband, is a bit risky but factual. Jesus responds with a
revelation of his own. A religious conversation ensues, one that overtakes
their differences as Jew and Samaritan, male and female. The woman sets
down her bucket, perhaps sits on the well, postures relax, history and the
Torah are dragged out. It's a long conversation in the heat of the
day-long enough for the disciples to return from their errand in town. The
end result is the Woman taking a message about Jesus to her community. As
biblical scholars Pheme Perkins (1) and Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza (2)
each point out, the Samaritan woman has become a missionary. The woman
departs the stage to go into the village and broker her experience and
understanding of Jesus to others. The disciples return. The conversation
shifts from water to food. Living water welling up with ease and abundance
is joined to the image of a harvest that is bountiful beyond imagination.
The difficult and back breaking work of sowing and reaping is replaced by
the joy and ease of abundance-just as the daily chore of walking to draw
water is ended with water that quenches thirst forever. "The reaper
has overtaken the sower; it is the promised age of fulfillment." (3)
Food and water here are images for the will of God generously made known
in the form of Word, Wisdom and Torah. Now God's will is poured out and
lavished abundantly on the whole earth in the person of Jesus the Christ.
power of water as a symbol here comes from the story's context. A secure
supply of available drinkable water is crucial for life in an arid land.
As such, it's a powerful symbol in the sense in which Jesus uses it
--water "gushing up to eternal" life. May we not rediscover
water as a powerful symbol for the sustainability of life? Water plays a
key role as an indicator in global warming, pollution, and in the
viability of life in the oceans. We in our time are immediately connected
(as the people in first century Palestine were) to the crucial importance
of water in its relationship to life. Millennium Goal seven is
environmental sustainability. Surely those of us who are baptized with
water and the Spirit can see the relationship between this goal and a life
continues the abundance theme moving directly from water to food. Food and
feeding are deeply rooted biblical images. What Jesus talks about briefly
with his disciples at the well he will expand upon later in John's Gospel.
Indeed, he will describe himself as "the bread of life." Yet the
lack of abundance of food, often the sharp end of the stick of poverty, is
as persistent a challenge now as it was in first century Palestine. Along
side the divine value of abundance, is the reality of want in the lives of
so many. Millennium Goal one is the eradication of poverty and extreme
hunger. An estimated 850 million people a day go hungry. Currently 1.1
billion people around the world live on less than a dollar a day.
the well Jesus invites the Samaritan woman into conversation with his
terse plea, "Give me a drink". The cutting edge of this
conversation is traced along the lines of gender. The woman of Samaria
warily responds to this foreign man and opens to up a conversation that
results in her becoming a storyteller about Christ. Those who hear her
come to know Christ as the saviour of the world. The title "saviour
of the world" was often assigned to the emperor. (4) Here a community
has listened to the testimony of this woman and assigns the title to
Christ. She is the first of several women in John's Gospel (Mary the
sister of Lazarus and Mary Magdalene are others) that have good news to
tell. Millennium Goal three is Promote gender equality and empower women.
We don't have to look at some distant social setting on the far side of
the world to think about the challenge goal three presents. The Samaritan
woman nurtures faith. During Epiphany season, I asked members of the
congregation to recall those who influenced their faith development. I'm
willing to bet that in the majority of cases one of the central influences
on your faith was a woman. Sadly, the church has sometimes taken the
significant role that women have played in shaping and nurturing the faith
of others very much for granted. Michael Valpy, writing in The Globe and
Mail recently reported on the decline of the churches in Canada. (I've
placed a copy his article on the Millennium Goals display table).
outlines the connection that some sociologists of religion make between
the decline in the churches in Canada and the inability of the churches
two generations ago to adapt to the evolving roles of women in Canadian
society. It would be a fascinating to have a conversation about this
issue-a conversation that involves both women who have stayed with the
church and those who have left.
on the Millennium Goals display table is the mission statement of the
International Anglican Women's Network. http://iawn.anglicancommunion.org/
Network reports to the Anglican Consultative Council. The Network is
making a very distinctive and insightful contribution to The Anglican
Communion. Perhaps, over time, it will grab as much press and as much
influence as the gathering of (the mostly male) Primates. Also found
there, is material from Anglican Women's Empowerment. Anglican Women's
empowerment is being highlighted this Sunday in The Episcopal Church.
roles and experiences of women around the world are something of a lynch
pin with regard to the Millennium Goals. Poverty for example can affect
anyone; but poverty remains disproportionately a problem for women and
their children. Education access, child mortality, the fight against
HIV/AIDS and development partnerships all have special challenges for
women. In order to successfully understand and meet the challenges
represented by The Millennium Goals, it is necessary to hear about the
experiences of women.
Millennium Goals seek to identify problems facing the Earth and her people
with a view to providing the many resources that will be required to
resolve them. According to John, in the hottest part of the day, at a well
by the side of a roadway, Jesus and the Woman of Samaria encounter one
another. They enter into a conversation that culminates in an awareness of
Jesus Christ as the savior of the world. Throughout their conversation
neither Jesus nor The Samaritan woman sets aside who they are as persons.
However, during the course of their conversation Jesus and this unnamed
woman transcend ethnicity, religious barriers, and gender in order to
understand together the grace and the abundance of God. What happens there
is not incidental to the gospel. At so many levels, this is the gospel.
Pheme Perkins The New Jerome Biblical Commentary: Article 61 The Gospel
According to John. Geoffrey Chapman, London, 1990. # 49.
Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza. In Memory of Her. Crossroad, New York, 1994.
A.M. Hunter. According to John. SCM Press, Ltd., 1968 p. 80
Perkins. Ibid. #65