The Most Interesting Woman in the World

Have you seen the Dos Equis commercials starring actor Jonathan Goldsmith as "the most interesting man in the world"? "People hang on his every word,” the narrator intones, "even the prepositions." Though the ad is clever and funny, the "Stay thirsty, my friends" tagline makes clear that what's being sold is unquenchable thirst.

Contrast this with the Samaritan woman Jesus meets at the well. What's on offer in John 4 is "living water." But obtaining it requires a more daring leap than the short-term gains of "Interesting Man's" carpe diem philosophy.

Who is the Samaritan woman with whom Jesus holds his longest discussion in the gospels? First, let's clarify what she is not. She is not a whore, nor promiscuous. She's not spiritually dead or "hopelessly carnal," as some male interpreters have claimed.

For too long this "type story" in John's gospel has been sold to us as a sexual morality tale based on an interpretation of the woman as a sinner because she had "five husbands." Sadly, this serves patriarchy more than scripture. Assuming personal licentiousness on the woman’s part is a result of a patriarchal bias "to reduce women to their sexuality and reduce their sexuality to immorality," as Sandra M. Schneiders writes in Written That You May Believe.

A different interpretation surfaces when John 4 is read in context as part of a Cana-to-Cana framework that places the woman at the well between the Pharisee Nicodemus (3:1-21), who has religious power, and the royal official (4:46-54), who has political power.

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