March 12 2023 “Homily”
The geographical area called Samaria was a district that lies between Judea and Galilee. Samaria comprised the land formerly occupied by the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. Jacob’s well, where this conversation with the woman at the well is believed to have taken place is in the city of Nablus, in the northern part of the west bank. We have learned from scripture and history that when the Jewish captives were taken as slaves, to Babylon, the Assyrian king sent non-Jewish tribes to occupy Samaria.
This area is about forty miles north of Jerusalem, and situated between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, known as the Mounts of Blessing and Cursing. We understand it was here that Jacob built his first altar; that Joseph was buried in the land given him by his father his bones having been carried with them in accordance with his dying wish when Israel came up out of Egypt; it was here that the covenant of Israel was renewed with Amen’s to the blessings and curses after Joshua conquered Canaan.
We understand that the Assyrian’s took only the wealthy, educated, privileged Jewish people, and left behind poorer uneducated servants, slaves, and distant relations. Those sent by the Assyrian’s mingled with those left behind and over time adopted aspects of Jewish worship and built their own temple on Mount Gerizim. When the Jewish people returned from captivity, they rejected the Samaritans angry that they had been left in their homeland, not forced into captivity, and were polluting the worship of their ancestors. From the time of their return from exile forward to Jesus time the hostility between the two tribes Jewish and Samarians was bitter, and they kept their distance. Today there are only a few hundred Samaritans living in Israel, primarily near Tel Aviv, and they maintain their distinct culture, religious practices, and tradition. There has been efforts to increase cooperation between the two and to preserve the heritage of the Samaritans.
This was sacred land with numerous sacred historical sites, and Jesus decision to stop here for a drink of water was no accident.
Women in this period were not seen out in public alone in the middle of the day. They were expected to be sheltered at home; When they traveled, they seldom traveled alone, with a male relative or with groups of other women. The other women in this village would have gathered their water at the well in the early morning and late evening, but not in the middle of the day. Generally, women had little or no status in the world apart from the men in their lives, fathers, brothers or husbands.
The woman at the well is not Jewish, she is ritually unclean, most likely shunned by Jewish travelers. She is represented as a shameless woman, coming to the well in the middle of the day, perhaps to avoid the whisperings of the other women of the village. They probably gossiped amongst themselves about her sexual history, after all as we heard she had been married and failed 5 different times and was currently living with a man who is not her husband.
From this Gospel we understand that this woman has courage; she comes to the well at midday, alone, unafraid of her past or the social customs that define her role and status.
Likewise, Jesus provides us a transformative lesson, traveling in the land of historical enemies, near sacred historical sites no longer occupied by the Jewish people, defiled by the Samaritan people; he surprises us with a lesson breaking the social traditions between men and women.
We might ask why the same social customs that characterize the marginalized woman at the well, might also characterize Jesus. Consider, what is a single Jewish man in the middle of the day doing approaching a broken Samaritan woman alone and asking for a drink of water from her bucket. Why would Jesus send his friends off to town to purchase food, and leave him alone for this chance opportunity to meet with the woman at the well?
Jesus consistently demonstrates courage in action or dialogue breaking down barriers, false idols, empty tired icons; Consider the courage of both the woman at the well and of Jesus in his deep conversation transforming the tradition of separation between the Jewish and Samaritan people, as well as the behavioral traditions between men and women in their dialogue. Listen again to this longest dialogue with Jesus recorded in the Gospels:
Jesus said, “Would you give me a drink of water?”
The Samaritan woman responds, “How come you, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?”
“If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.”
The woman “Sir, you don’t even have a bucket to draw with, and this well is deep. So how are you going to get this “living water’? Are you a better man than our ancestor Jacob, who dug this well?
Jesus remarks: “Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst–not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life.”
The woman said, “Sir, give me this water so I won’t ever get thirsty, won’t ever have to come back to this well again!”
After Jesus reveals his insight about her past she continues:
“Oh, so you’re a prophet! Well, tell me this: Our ancestors worshiped God at this mountain, but you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place for worship, right?”
“Believe me, woman, the time is coming when you Samaritans will worship the Father neither here at this mountain nor there in Jerusalem. …the time is coming– when what you’re called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter.
“It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God… the Father is looking for those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship.
The woman continues with Jesus, “I do know that the Messiah is coming.
“I am he,” said Jesus. “You don’t have to wait any longer or look any further.”
She immediately understands the truth about Jesus revealed to her in this dialogue.
Back in the village she told the people, “Come see a man who knew all about the things I did, who knows me inside and out. Do you think this could be the Messiah?”
(from The Message, Peterson)
Jesus leads her into a deeply personal dialogue of kinship, her behavior becomes less competitive, less challenging and teaches us of a developing personal relationship. As she is drawn into a personal relationship with Jesus she drops her aggressive style, speaks truthfully, and becomes the recipient of powerful, intimate revelations. She relates to Jesus in a manner that is not consistent with their cultural traditions.
We experience her transformation in the changing social relationship between her and Jesus. Her courage to engage with Jesus opens her to the understanding and acceptance of who he is and empowers her into the role of the evangelist, the first noted in John’s Gospel. Throughout the Gospels we experience Jesus turning traditions upside down: the empowerment of women, the formation of those on the fringes, engaging the poor, hungry, those outside the community. He clarifies that what you are called, and where you worship will not matter. What matters is who you are and the way you live.
We can use the filters of Process, Liberation, and Creation Theology to dig deeper into this passage: to reveal deeper hidden meanings and understanding….God is in an interconnected evolving process in relationship with creation, as our own experience with creation is constantly transforming and open to new possibility. Grace and Salvation are the ongoing processes of fulfilling the potential of personal transformation towards wholeness.
Consider Jesus transforming conversation with the woman at the well and the transformation that Jesus experienced in this dialogue.
Liberation theology highlights how systemic oppression and injustice impact marginalized communities and reinforces the power dynamics that maintain privilege and inequality. It emphasizes the importance of solidarity with marginalized communities and working together to challenge systems of oppression and places strong emphasis on social justice and the importance of working to create a just and equitable society.
Liberation theology provides a transformative perspective for Privileged Christians helping us to understand the ways in which our privilege contributes to systems of oppression and inspires us to work for social justice and liberation for all people.
Jesus participates fully in this liberating conversation as Isaiah identifies as a repairer of the breach, interacting between these conflicted tribes in worship practice, relationships with women, and relational dialogue.
“Central to the vocation of Jesus of Nazareth was his work as a healer. But the Gospels insist he wasn’t a socializing physician who patches people up so they can carry on with the status quo. Rather he understood that the real problems went deeper than symptoms; he was a radical doctor who sought out the roots of our ghostly dis-ease.” Ched Myers, Healing Haunted Histories
Jesus commitment to the interconnectedness of life in all creation, and the challenge that where we worship will not matter when compared to our spiritual practice of following the way of love. Consider our ongoing conversations about a wild church experience.
Craig Foster in his moving, life-altering, love-story, My Octopus Teacher suggests that the more we go deep inside to look at the tangled underwater terrain of our emotions, and our behaviors, not so different from the Cape of Storms where My Octopus Teacher takes place, the more we will experience the sacred. “That’s when you see the subtle differences. That’s when you get to know the wild.”
“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” -John Muir
Today’s Gospel challenges us to question, Why do we stay stuck in our personal or cultural history? Where, or who, might we turn towards in dialogue or experience to liberate others and heal ourselves; to fully participate fully in a loving path of transformation? Who is your woman at the well, and what is your work of healing and transformation?