Tuesday, July 31, 2012

How a Servant is to Serve, a lesson from Mary and Martha

Martha and Mary by He Qi Chin

I’ve been Martha.  Not in the way you’d expect, the doing-all-the-things-because-I’m-a-beaver manner.  But in that I feel this unexplainable weight to meet the androcentric expectations of my more patristic brethren.  I’ve held my tongue, when I knew it was not what was being required of me at the moment, in settings where more traditional believers facilitated the gathering.  And I’ve relied on men to speak for me in similar settings, when I knew my job was to speak up for myself, or on behalf of sisters who had been belittled into silence.  I’ve hastily back-pedaled when asked if I desire to or was teaching God’s Word; and I’ve looked demurely at the floor, dying a little bit on the inside, instead of challenging the ideals spouted by denominational leaders. 
I’ve been Martha.  Distracted too much with the worry of how other people will react to my intentions or actions, to sit at my Master’s feet and quietly, though publicly, declare that I will be His student, so that I may be a teacher of His way to others.  Worried about the hard work of having to defend why I think what I’m doing is scriptural, why women should be permitted to behave thus.  Worried at the reaction towards my husband, who leans a little more closely to the traditional way of doing things than me.  Worried that my ministry or my voice or even the person for whom I’m advocating might suffer unnecessarily for my brazen speech.  Worried with the details of service, of how things will come off; because these events will reflect on me as a leader and my ability thereto.  Worried.  To the point of distraction, so that I’ve missed my Master’s presence in these beautiful moments. 
And because of this, I find that I might have more in common with Martha than Mary.

The Sisters at Bethany: Luke 10:38-42

As we mentioned on Thursday, By sitting at Jesus’ feet, Mary is signaling her intention to become a teacher herself; and Jesus declares that she is right to do so.[1]   However, if this is the sole intent of this narrative, Mary’s theological education comes at the expense of Martha.[2]  To counter the seeming unfairness towards Martha, Veronica Koperski proffers the theory that it is not Martha’s busyness that is being chastised, but her anxiety.[3]
The weight of this idea falls mostly on the translation of the Greek verbdiakouewfrom verse 40.  According to Klaus Hess, in this particular passage, it means “service at a table;” however, this word occurs 34 times in the New Testament and in every use except this one, it implies “service, office, aid, support, distribution (of alms, etc.), office of a deacon.”[4]  In fact, Koperski contends that because of its usage in other New Testament passages, it is “not exclusively associated with table service, and the text gives no indication that a meal is involved.”[5]  In particular, she references a later passage in Luke 22:25-27 were this word expresses “the epitome of Jesus’ mission” and notes that “Jesus does not actually serve a meal, but charges his disciples to adopt the attitude of ‘one who serves.’”[6] Warren Carter asserts this position, noting that
in six of its eight occurrences in Acts diakonia indicates leadership and proclamation on behalf of God or of the church and the gospel.  In two of the six the administration and provision of material relief for those in need are indicated without separation of these tasks from the tasks of leadership and proclamation.  Partnership with others in the acts of ministry pervades all eight texts, as does the sense of ministering as the representative of God or of the church…thus [it] does not designate domestic or culinary activity.[7]
The question then becomes, why in this instance only does this verb refer to waiting tables?  Is it only because its subject is specifically female and could therefore offer no other service?  If this is the case, certainly Jesus’ words that Mary has choose the better portion indicates that becoming his student trumps domestic obligations.  On the other hand, both Carter and Koperski contend that Mary and Martha were involved, at some level, in local church leadership.  Carter posits that Martha’s anxiety stems from the exultant doing of this ministry, while Koperski attributes the worry to her feeling of being pulled away from her service therein, by the disapproval of others.[8]  While both theories certainly place more weight on Martha’s potential ministerial duties and make her seem less like a petulant child, neither can be adequately proven from the text itself. Yet, neither can a simplistic outburst concerning the unfair distribution of domestic duties.  What remains are Jesus’ words that Mary “has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (10:42). 
Thus however you read this particular word for service, as domestic in only this one instance or as service for the kingdom, the good portion for which Mary is lauded is: being aware of her Lord’s presence, of abandoning what is culturally expected to spend her time with him, soaking up his presence and his teaching even if it is socially unacceptable.  Because those are the only things that will sustain a servant of any ilk. 
I must encourage you: sit at Jesus’ feet, soak up His presence, and learn from Him through reading God’s Word.  Be prepared to share what you have learned, to freely give what you have freely been given.  And when societal boundaries seem to rise up against what you’re doing, cross them.  Like a rebel who hails from a kingdom where your King delights in eliminating the walls that keep us from Him.    

Enjoying this study?  Here's a link to other articles in this series: The Women Who Knew Jesus

[1]Wright, N. T., Bishop of Durham.  “Women’s Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis.”  Conference paper for the Symposium “Men, Women and the Church,” St John’s College, Durham, September 4 , 2004.
[2]Veronica Koperski.  “Women and Discipleship in Luke 10:38-42 and Acts 6:1-7: The Literary Context of Luke-Acts.”  A Feminist Companion to Luke.  ed. Amy-Jill Levine with Marianne Blickenstaff, 161-196.  New York: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002, page 183.
[3] Ibid, 195.
[4] Colin Brown, ed., New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, vol 3 (Grand Rapides: Zondervan, 1986), s.v. “Serve, Deacon, Worship,” by K. Hess.   
[5] Koperski, “Women and Discipleship,” 183.
[6] Ibid, 182.
[7] Carter, Warren. “Getting Martha out of the Kitchen: Luke 10.38-24 Again.”  A Feminist Companion to Luke.  ed. Amy-Jill Levine with Marianne Blickenstaff, 215-231.  New York: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002.  Originally published in CBQ 56 (1996): 264-280, page 222.
[8]Carter, “Getting Martha Out,” 230; Koperski, “Women and Discipleship,” 185.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Scarring Culture

My mother works with wood.  She is  less carpenter, more artisan, who attends the warmth of her organic medium with the tenderness of, well, a mother.  Her handiwork fills the homes of our family in the form of beds and tables, desks and mantles.  She has asserted, as one who has seen the effects of this mistake, that when sanding a piece, bringing its glow to the surface, turning the wood satin beneath her fingers, that to go against the grain scars the wood.  It leaves the wood marked and sets it apart from the rest of the piece.  Thus the colloquialism, “against the grain” can be taken to mean a scarring of culture, a change that is counter to the status quo.  A way of doing, a way of being, that is revolutionary; and can change the culture in which the action occurs.

So it is with two sisters, in their home in Bethany.  One adhering to the normative cultural practices of her day; the other, flouting them.  And Jesus saying the later has chosen the better way.         

The Sisters at Bethany: Luke 10:38-42

Returning to the text, we find that immediately before Jesus dines at the home of Martha and Mary, 70 disciples have returned.  Jesus, having sent them out to tell of his works and mission, rejoices and offers a prayer of thanksgiving.  Then in answer to a  lawyer’s question, Jesus gives the parable of the Good Samaritan (10:17-37).  The thrust of this parable turns the expected worldview of a Jewish lawyer on its head by insinuating that the law requires one to love God and people, even one’s enemies.  Jesus, in verse 37 then admonishes the lawyer to “go and do likewise.”  The command of “do” insinuating action; which is important when considering that within a few verses it appears that Martha is rebuked for “doing,” where Mary is seemingly lauded for not doing.   Following this teaching, Jesus and his disciples leave their current town and head into Bethany. 
Once in Bethany, Jesus and his disciples are welcomed into the home of Martha.  There is some disagreement between scholars as to whether this particular abode is the location of a house church or merely her home.  (The Greek, οἰκίαν, means house and Luke’s use of the singular, feminine, genitive ending implies that the home is a possession of Martha.[1]  Therefore, if it is the site of a home church, Martha could be considered the leader thereof.)  Whether a house church or not, Martha opens her home to Jesus willingly.  With the Lord and his disciples inside, Martha’s sister, Mary, “sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he had to say,” while Martha is “distracted with much serving” (10:39-40).  Martha then questions Jesus’ allowance of Mary’s seeming abdication of domestic duties; and Jesus responds to her by saying that Mary has chosen “the good portion which will not be taken away from her” (10:42).

This passage has been the crux of generations of debate regarding gender roles within the home and the church; both Mary and Martha having been cast as archetypes for contemplative and service-oriented lives, as well as exemplars of what women are not and are permitted to do within the context of ecclesiastical service, respectively.  (That the NIV renders verse 40 as “distracted by all the preparations that had to be made,” advances an a priori theory of a domestic origin, thereby subtly negating other legitimate catalysts for Martha’s distraction.)  However, most scholars do agree Mary’s reclining at Jesus’ feet is radical for the first century; and it is this behavior that causes Martha’s offense.  Bishop Tom Wright claims that “no doubt [Martha] was cross at being left to do all the work, but the real problem behind that was that Mary had cut clean across one of the most basic social conventions.”[2]  Why?  Because Mary would be sitting at Jesus’ feet in the male part of the house, instead of remaining in the back rooms with the other women.  Bishop Wright likens this behavior to a Western, twenty-first century guest following their host into his or her bedroom at night to sleep there, instead of staying in the guest bedroom made up for that very purpose.  First century Jewish women were generally not permitted in the men’s areas unless they were serving food.  Thus Mary’s positioning herself there warrants the audience’s attention.
By situating herself at Jesus’ feet, Mary is not only flouting her culture, but also asserting herself as a student of Jesus.  Mary would not act thus merely for self-fulfillment, nor simply to soak up her beloved teacher’s presence; instead, Mary is doing this in order than she may be a rabbi (“teacher”) herself.  Bishop Wright references Paul’s relationship with Gamaliel to illustrate this concept; emphasizing that in the first century, learning for the sake of learning was not an occupation entered into by the common person.  By sitting at Jesus’ feet, Mary is signaling her intention to become a teacher herself; and Jesus declares that she is right to do so.[3]      

As he illustrated in the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus allowing Mary to sit at his feet as a student and then telling Martha that her sister has indeed chosen the better way, the Lord is showing his followers how his Kingdom is to affect their comfortable ways of living.  In radical and counter-cultural ways.  Those who have been prohibited from learning and teaching now are welcomed as equals with their brethren.  Those who are unclean, as the Samaritan woman and the man in Christ’s parable, are now made equally clean and included in Christ.  Thus, Mary’s theological education does not come at the expense of Martha; rather the allowance of Mary to sit at Jesus’ feet is a liberation for them both.[4]  They are freed from solely domestic contributions to ministerial service that is unparalleled in their day.[5] 

A revelation which will become even more crystalline as we look at the Greek on Tuesday.

Enjoying this study?  Here's a link to other articles in this series:  The Women Who Knew Jesus

[1] Warren Carter, “Getting Martha out of the Kitchen: Luke 10.38-24 Again,” in A Feminist Companion to Luke, ed. Amy-Jill Levine with Marianne Blickenstaff, (New York: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002), 215-231.  And Veronica Koperski, “Women and Discipleship in Luke,” in A Feminist Companion to Luke, ed. Amy-Jill Levine with Marianne Blickenstaff, (New York: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002), 161-196. 
[2] Bishop N.T. Wright, “Women’s Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis,” St John’s College, Durham, September 4 2004.
[3] Wright, “Women’s service in Church,” 2004.
[4] Koperski,Veronica.  “Women and Discipleship in Loke 10:38-42 and Acts 6:1-7: The Literary Context of Luke-Acts.”  A Feminist Companion to Luke.  ed. Amy-Jill Levine with Marianne Blickenstaff, 161-196.  New York: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002.” 183.
[5] Ibid, 195.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Sisterly Squabble of Do-ers and Be-ers...Or is it?

Mary and Martha, origin

You know them; at least, you think you do.  They’re as oft mentioned as that woman lurking at the end of Proverbs.  Though, unlike her, they were real people.  These two sisters who have been the archetypes for Do-ers and Be-ers since the ink dried on the good doctor’s papyrus.    

                Mary & Martha: the Sister Servants, in Luke10:38-42

Not to be flippant (for this is God’s Word to which we attend), but there have been seasons in which I have heard more about these two sisters, in the context of women’s studies, than I have about Christ Himself.  And I will say, that as a quintessential Be-er, I always felt validated.  Those Martha’s out there needed to take note, stop doing so much.  The Lord Himself has said as much.  It made me feel, well, like I got it.  Haha.  But I have learned that when I feel this way about a passage of scripture, likely I don’t have it.  At all.    
But as I dig into the text, I don’t see two sisters, one the I-can’t-sit-still variety and the other a let’s-stop-and-smell-the-roses type, who are the archetypes against which we modern women should judge ourselves and one another.  When I look at the cultural and historical background of this story, I learn a bit more about who each of these women were; what they might actually have been doing, and why Jesus lauded one over the other.    

I know some of this may sound a little outside the traditional way this story is taught, particularly within the context of women’s studies.  But I think that may only be because that’s how our teachers have learned it, and how their teachers learned it, etc…  And when we look at the texts, dig into the original language, and place all of this against the first century Palestinian and Jewish backdrop, we see a little different picture.
For example…

What if I told you that the Greek verb diakouew from verse 40 is used 34 times in the New Testament, some of which are in reference to Jesus himself?  You’d probably look quizzically at me; until I mention that translators generally apply the following meanings to this word: “service, office, aid, support, distribution (of alms, etc.), office of a deacon."*  Except in this verse—the only time it is translated thus—translators say it means “service at a table."**  Domestic duties.  Why, when every other usage in the whole of scripture is does not mean that?  We’re going to address that question in our third session.     

For today, read the passage; read what comes immediately before these verses and what comes after.  Recognize that this story is only found in Luke’s gospel.  And like we did for our first reading of the Samaritian woman’s story, write a list of what is in the text; only facts that you can support with the words on the page—no suppositions, no inferences.  And then be prepared to look at what cultural and historical evidence tells us about the world in which these two women lived, and how the definition of one word turned one woman into a waitress for posterity. 


Enjoying this study?  Here's a link to other articles in this series: The Women Who Knew Jesus

*Colin Brown, ed., New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, vol 3 (Grand Rapides: Zondervan, 1986), s.v. “Serve, Deacon, Worship,” by K. Hess.
**Klaus Hess, "Serve, Deacon, Worship."   

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Pharisee and an Outcast

Because all scripture should be read within context, no one verse or passage to be lifted from the place where its author set it,  today we’re going to look at John 4:1-42 as it relates to John 3, where Jesus encounters a Pharisee named Nicodemus.  So, crack John 3 [and if you’re feeling particularly ambitious, reread John 4 for good measure] and read it.  Don’t worry, I’ll wait…     
Nicodeums Visiting Jesus by Henry Ossawa Tanner - found at

Now, as we’ve mentioned [repeatedly] before, in chapter 4 we find that Jesus has gone out of his way, literally, to meet this particular woman at this particular well.  But this point becomes crystalline when considering it in such close proximity to that of Nicodemus the Pharisee visiting Jesus.  In the Nicodemus discourse, it is the Pharisee who seeks out Jesus; yet for the Samaritan woman it is the other way around.  Another striking difference between these two accounts is the time at which they happen.  John notes that Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, while Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman occurs at noon. 
Again, we’ve established that some scholars deem this an unlikely time for drawing water, and make further claims about the woman’s character based on this fact [including that she has no friends or is not welcome by the other women, which is why she draws her water at noon, alone].[1]  However, as much as this anthropologic information supports the typography of this woman as an outcast, literarily, John is employing one of his preferred tactics, the expression of duality, to further highlight the differences between these two encounters: Nicodemus seeks out Jesus in the dark, while Jesus approaches this woman in the light of day.  Thus the insertion of time and location, which are characteristic of John’s gospel, serve to draw the readers’ attention to the polarization of these narratives.  And because the woman’s exchange with Jesus occurs in the light, John paints her as the better example of faith, understanding, and evangelism.

Within the Nicodemus conversation it is the Pharisee who begins the dialogue, as the honor of speaking first is generally afforded to the most socially superior individual.[2]  Even though Nicodemus identifies Jesus as “a teacher who has come from God,” Jesus immediately commandeers the exchange by ignoring Nicodemus’ question; Jesus offers instead a statement that is completely off the subject that Nicodemus has introduced.  In the remainder of their conversation, Nicodemus is left only with questions and Jesus guides the discussion in an increasingly harsh manner through to its cessation.  In the Samaritan discourse, Jesus is the initiator of contact, which does indicate his superior position; however this contact is highly unusual and counter-cultural.  In fact, when the disciples return from procuring food, they are surprised to find him engaged in a conversation with this woman, yet, as Keener suggests, they know Jesus well enough not to question him out loud.[3]      

While Nicodemus initially appeared to have a superior position in his conversation with Christ, “Jesus approached the relationship with the Samaritan woman with all the cards on his side: he was male, he was Jewish, he was a Rabbi.  He came with knowledge, a certain amount of affluence, friends, and the privilege afforded to him as a result of being part of the dominant culture.”[4]  And yet, he brooked interaction with this woman, who by Jewish pietists’ definition would have been considered perpetually unclean from birth due to her Samaritan roots.[5]  And he humbled himself before her, empowering her in their exchange, asking for her help in quenching his thirst.[6]  This humility was so out of the ordinary, the woman comments on it in verse nine, asking how a Jewish man could be requesting a drink from her, a Samaritan woman.[7] It is worth noting that Jesus furthers his expression of humility in showing his willingness to be made unclean by this woman, for as she notes, he has “nothing to draw with,” meaning he would have to use her utensils (4:11). In response to her seeming refusal, Jesus offers a further supplication: the gift of living water.  

During their conversation, each of Jesus’ answers to her questions show that unlike his exchange with Nicodemus, a Pharisee who was considered to be one who should understand the things about which Jesus spoke, Christ will treat the Samaritan woman as one who does not yet understand.  She is a perennial outsider, even without a corrupt morality.  At no point does Jesus verbally distance himself from her with increasingly cryptic responses, as he had with Nicodemus; instead, he offers greater amounts of information, without ignoring her questions or impugning her intelligence, though he does allow her to duck to issue of her marital state.  Thus when she states her faith that he is a prophet and later that from the Jews the Messiah is coming and will show the Samaritans all things, Jesus offers her the clearest, most efficient personal Christology yet: “egw eimi,” I am he (4:26).

This statement secures her faith and she immediately acts upon it; she leaves her bucket where it is and departs to call her fellow Samaritans to this man whom she believes is the Messiah.  Yet, Nicodemus, a man who was supposed to be constantly villagent for the consummation of God’s promise, is even rebuked by Jesus for his lack of belief (3:12).  Thus a foreign woman, the last person any Israelite would have expected, heralded the Messiah’s coming.  She called her people to Christ, believing with all that she was that Jesus was the Promised One.  While the Pharisee, a man whom Jesus identifies as “Israel’s teacher” (3:10), had only questions and unbelief.  Thus, when we look at these two passages together, we see Jesus lifting a woman to a place of greater use in his kingdom; for she was ministered to and used by Jesus to announce the reality of his kingdom on earth, in a way that the Pharisee Nicodemus could not, because he could not believe.

And these two scenarios pivot on belief.  One, who should have known better, did not believe.  The other, who was fairly clueless, believed.  And tucked so neatly between these two accounts, not just once, but twice, is the theme of both:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.   Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:16-18)

-- And --

The one who comes from heaven is above all.  He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony.  Whoever has accepted it has certified that God is truthful.   For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands.   Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them. (John 3:31b-36)

Thus, the Pharisee isn’t bad because he’s a Pharisee, nor because he’s male.  And the Samaritan woman isn’t good because she’s a woman, or a Gentile, or a sinner.  It is merely because he did not believe.  And she did.

Belief in Jesus Christ is the pivotal catalyst for eternal life. 

Without it, we are dead. 

  Enjoying this study?  Here's a link to other articles in this series: The Women Who Knew Jesus

[1]Craig S. Keener, “One New Temple in Christ (Ephesians 2:11-22; Acts 21:27-29; Mark 11:17; John 4:20-24),” Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies 12 (2009): 82.
[2] Craig Blomberg, “Literary Criticism, Introduction to Mark and Matthew,” Lecture, Gospels and Acts class, Denver Seminary, Denver, CO, September 27, 2011.
[3] Keener, “One New Temple,” 82.
[4]Brenda Salter McNeil, “A More Excellent Way: Race and Gender Reconciliation Through Christ,” Priscilla Papers, 14, (2000):  1-5.
[5] Keener, “One New Temple,” 82.
[6] McNeil, “A More Excellent Way.”
[7] Leonard Swidler, “Jesus in His Encounter with Women,” AFER, 13, (1971):  297-298.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Who She Was...and Who She Wasn't

The Samaritan Woman at Jacob’s Well, Day 2
A Video Blog

Enjoying this study?  Here's a link to articles in this series: The Women Who Knew Jesus


John Piper, “God Seeks People to Worship Him in Spirit and Truth (John 4:16-26),” Bethlehem Baptist Church, April 8, 1984.

Cohick, Lynn H.  Women in the World of the Earliest Christians: Illuminating Ancient Ways of Life.  Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009.
Swidler, Leonard.  “Jesus in His Encounter with Women,” AFER.  13 (1971): 290-300. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

An Outsider's Outsider

The water went out at my house a few years ago.  Construction to a neighboring area necessitated it.  But somehow, I didn’t get the memo.  You don’t realize how absolutely necessary water is, for everything, until you don’t have immediate access to it.  My sister was home alone with my small children at the time, and not only could no one get a drink, but they couldn’t flush or wash hands or make mac and cheese.  All of which are requirements of daily life with little kids.  Fortunately, I have an extremely resourceful sister who emptied out our ice maker and boiled the ice on the stove for cooking; she kept hand sanitizer in her purse, and the little boy (to his great delight) was encouraged to use the outdoors for relief.  After this incident, I keep 3 gallons of store-bought water in the pantry, just in case. 

Even with all of our modern conveniences, water is a necessary part of daily life.  This is no different from life in first century Palestine.  In the absence of indoor plumbing the only place water one might procure water was from a stream or a well.  Today, we’re going to start our series with a familiar, though unnamed woman.  A Samaritan who needed water.   

The Samaritan Woman at Jacob’s Well:

John 4:4-30

As with all of scripture, there is so much truth and beauty bound in this passage, we are going to have to be selective to what we attend.  We could spend the entire four weeks on this one exchange, but to stay on track, we can only stay for three days.  For today, we must start by reading the account of Jesus and this woman.  I know it’s very likely that you know the story, and could recite the gist of it by heart.  But, we are going to need to set aside what we have already heard about this encounter and engage the text anew.  If you’re not near a Bible, I’ve included a link [John 4:4-30].  Don’t worry, I’ll wait. 

Our goal today is to see what the text actually says, and set aside what we have been taught or have always assumed about this woman, but is not found in the text (or other reliable, historical documents). 

The following are key points we learn from the text: 

1.         The text tells us that Jesus “had to go through Samaria.” 

2.        It was noon.

3.        Jesus was alone.

4.        The woman he encountered was alone.

5.        The woman he encountered was a Samaritan.

6.       She desires the living water of which Jesus speaks.

7.        She is not married to the man with whom she’s currently living.

8.       She knows about the prophesied Messiah.

9.       Jesus offers her the clearest, most efficient personal Christology in scripture yet: “egw eimi,” I am he.

10.     The woman leaves her present task to go and tell her fellow townspeople that the Messiah is among them. 

I had always pictured Jesus strolling through the countryside, en route to somewhere important, making a pit stop in Samaria.  My family makes frequent trips south to visit extended family, and our tried and true rest stop is Raton, New Mexico: the halfway point.  We end up there at noon more often than not.  So in my mind, Jesus and the disciples were on their way elsewhere when they got hungry and thirsty and pulled off the freeway to refuel before heading back onto the road. 

Yet, scholars agree that this was not a geographical necessity; according to Peter Phan, there is an alternate route from the Jordan valley up to Galilee through the Bethshan gap, without a traveler ever having to pass through Samaria.*  And because the Jewish people viewed the Samarians as perpetually unclean due to their non-Jewishness, it is very likely that a group of Jewish men would take a route that kept them out of Samaria.  Thus, as the disciples are away procuring food, Jesus has gone out of his way, literally, to meet this particular woman at this particular well.      

Much has been made of John’s inclusion of the time.  John tells his readers that it is noon; some scholars deem this an unlikely time for drawing water, and make assumptions about the woman’s character based on this fact, including that she has no friends or is not welcome by the other women, which is why she draws her water at noon, alone.**  Were this the only reason for John’s inclusion of the information, it would further this woman’s typography as an outcast, one whom even the Samaritans would not accept.  However, John’s gospel is characterized by his inclusion of time and locations; and this particular example thereof is likely employed for the purpose of expressing a duality between this encounter and another very recent one, between Jesus and Nicodemus the Pharisee.  But, we’ll have to explore this in more depth on day three.

Many teachers, preachers, and scholars have made sweeping judgments about the Samaritan woman’s character, based on her assertion that she is not married to the man with whom she lives.  And while the people who have come after John have branded this woman a harlot, a prostitute, or a whore, Jesus does not utter such a label; nor does John provide one.  Thus, Tuesday next we will examine who this woman was…and who she wasn’t.      

Today, consider what the text says. 

Jesus “had” to go to Samaria; yet we know it was not a geographic necessity.  Under what compulsion did he go?  To meet a woman in need of a Savior.

Prior to this encounter, Jesus has spoken with learned men and leaders of his community, as well as fringe dwellers, like the disciples.  Yet it is to this outsider that he gives the most clear and concise Christology; when she talks of a promised messiah, Jesus says, “I AM HE.”

As soon as she hears this, the Samaritan woman abandons her daily task of fetching water necessary for her survival.  She runs into her village and calls her community to this stranger.  She heralds the Promised Messiah to a people deemed unworthy by the religious elite of their day.  And she brings her community to him; draws these outsiders to the One who can give Living Water. 

Would that we all could be more like her.

Enjoying this study?  Here's a link to other articles in this series: The Women Who Knew Jesus

[1]*Peter C. Phan.  “An Interfaith Encounter at Jacob’s Well, A Missiological Interpretation of John 4:4-42.”  Journal of the International Association for Mission Studies.  27 (2010): 160-175.

[2]**Craig S. Keener, “One New Temple in Christ (Ephesians 2:11-22; Acts 21:27-29; Mark 11:17; John 4:20-24),” Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies 12 (2009): 82.