The story of the Samaritan woman of John 4 is a story about crossing borders of various kinds. It’s a story about a strong woman (who may not have felt strong), surviving and thriving in a society that privileged male power. It’s about a woman who lived the International Women’s Day theme, #BeBoldForChange.
Jesus also boldly crossed a geographical border when he went from Judea to Samaria on his way to Galilee, along with ethnic, political, and religious borders by being a Jew interacting with a Samaritan. The author gives you a cheat sheet in case you don’t get the significance of this no-no: “Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.” Jesus crossed a serious gender border by meeting a woman all alone at a well — wells were the meeting place of future spouses. So it’s not surprising that talk of the Samaritan woman’s husbands came up. Jesus tells the woman she’s had five husbands and the one she’s living with now isn’t her husband.
I continue to be surprised and disappointed by ubiquitous interpretations of her as a “whore” or “prostitute.” John is using symbolism — the woman represents Samaria, which, according to Jewish reckoning, worshipped the five foreign gods. Samaria was seen as being partially faithful to the covenant (“the one you have now is not your husband”). John depicts Jesus as the bridegroom. When the Samaritan woman joins Jesus, the symbolized, divided but related ethnic groups will stop fighting: “Woman, believe me,” Jesus says, “the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem … But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth …”
In antiquity (and often today), a woman without a man — whether a mate or sons — was in a vulnerable position, as there was no financial gender equity. John 4 gives us no reason for why the Samaritan woman had numerous husbands. Invariably, interpreters make her out to be a “nasty woman” — with no basis.
But Jesus approaches her.
“How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” she asks Jesus, recognizing and naming their differences, highlighting with honesty the unlikelihood of their conversation being fruitful.
Both she and Jesus are willing to be vulnerable and really risk something for the sake of faith. Jesus risks critique for talking to a woman who is a Samaritan. The Samaritan woman risks ridicule when she goes on to testify to other Samaritans that Jesus is someone worth following.
#BeingBoldForChange requires vulnerability, and it requires figuring out how to build effective coalitions.
Recently, I was at a meeting where we were trying to build coalitions, but we had to work through two problems. First, it can be hard for people to set differences aside and come together around one thing they agree on. In our conversation, a Latina immigrant expressed frustration with white women, saying, “We came to your march, but will you now come to ours?”
Someone responded: “But you are a woman, so the Women’s March was your march as much as any other march.”
She explained that, for her, these identities cannot be separated out, and she expressed how difficult it is to work with people who only “get,” or are committed to one aspect of equality.
Can we pick one thing we agree on and mobilize around it, and then partner with others for other goals?
Secondly, what happens when causes pile up? At the same meeting, there was heated debate over the fact that #BlackLivesMatter has now made Palestinian rights part of its own platform. There were folks in the room who were staunch advocates of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, but could not sign on to the Palestinian piece, and thus could not fly the BLM flag. The question we are left with, then, is how to move forward with forming effective coalitions that are not totalizing?
Certainly, those coalitions need to start locally where trust can be forged; but it is hoped that they end up bringing abundant life globally, in keeping with the Jesus who is the savior of the cosmos (John 4:52). He and the Samaritan woman never dreamed small; why should we?
Via ON Scripture.