(12th century rendition of Jesus and the Samaritan woman, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
(Originally written for Speaking to the Soul, May 27, 2012)
Daily Office readings for Pentecost, 2012:
Psalms 118, 145
Acts 4:18-21, 23-33
"Sir, I see that you are a prophet."
It has to be one of the greatest understatements in the Gospel. Unfortunately, our reading today starts at the punch line; it's the discourse preceding this that makes the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, and is worth a read along with today's passage--take a few minutes to read what just precedes our text.
At the beginning of this story, the Samaritan woman is mostly delivering a load of snark at Jesus. "Yo, dude! Have you noticed I'm Samaritan and you're Jewish? Like you are going to share anything with me? Riiiigggghhhhtt....living water? Now how you gonna do that without a bucket? 'If I knew who you were'...are you bigger than our ancestor Jacob? Or maybe you've just been out in the sun a little too long, hmmmm?"
Generally speaking, it's also an understatement to say there was no love lost between Samaritans and Jews. In the eyes of the Jewish people and the Hebrew scriptures, Samaritans were pagans and half-breeds. Jews often put extra mileage on their journey between Judea and Galilee by crossing the Jordan and avoiding Samaria entirely, for fear of contamination. Those fool enough or desperate enough to travel through Samaria would be met with bullying and taunting. (Evidently, one of the taunts was that the Samaritans had an older copy of the Torah and that they were actually following its precepts better.)
We aren't shown entirely why this woman continues the conversation instead of kicking dirt at Jesus or hurling a rock at him, but as the conversation progresses, we see the conversation move from snark to curiosity ("Well, now, if you're serious about this living water stuff...well, it would sure save me a lot of trips to the well...") and finally outright dumbfounded awe when Jesus, out of the blue, reveals that he knows her rather checkered marital history, which is where today's reading picks up.
At this point, he has her absolute attention, and he proceeds to cut to the heart of what separates Samaritans and Jews--the "correct" spot where God chose to establish the kingdom. For Jews, it was Jerusalem; for Samaritans it was Mt. Gerizim. Deuteronomy 12:5 states, "...you shall seek the place that the Lord your God will choose out of all your tribes as his habitation to put his name there..." and uses the phrase "shall choose," implying it's yet to be.
But we're back to that business of that older Samaritan copy of the Torah again. That manuscript describes the place God "has chosen" (implying it's already been chosen," and Samaritans identified that place as Mt. Gerizim.
Jesus goes on to tell her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
What's incredibly interesting here is that it's clear Jesus has her ear, and he could have given her the "correct" answer in this dichotomy, but he doesn't. He could say "who's right" and "who's wrong." It is, after all, a prophet's right to do such things. Instead, he swings a circle big enough to hold both places--Jerusalem and Mt. Gerazim. The circle is big enough to hold the things Jews and Samaritans were sure they knew, and the things Jews and Samaritans didn't know, yet remain hopeful for truths that are not evident at the moment.
This discourse reminds us to examine those times in our lives when we were absolutely positively sure of what the "Christian" perspective was, and our response to anything challenging it was pure snark. How many times was our surety destroyed by being face-to-face with an unavoidable and revealed truth? Did we, like the Samaritan woman, change our attitude and approach it with awe, using it as an opportunity to hear and learn? Or did we bristle and throw more snark at it?
Additionally, as we head into General Convention, perhaps this passage calls us to consider those things we claim to be "sure" about regarding the hot-button issues that will be facing our deputies and bishops. Are we insistent on being on the side of "the truth," or should we be taking a cue from Jesus to draw a circle big enough to hold it all, until time passes and more truth is revealed?