This evening we will read about the Woman at the Well in Chapter 4 of Liz Curtis Higgs’ book Bad Girls of the Bible: And What We Can Learn From Them. We meet this Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:1-42.
This woman, who is an outcast from her own marginalized community, is one of the more consequential people we meet in John’s Gospel. I have attached Kenneth Bailey’s discussion on this woman from his book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, pp. 200-16. (If you don’t own this book, go order it now.) Bailey has a wonderfully insightful perspective on this story. If you have time today, please read the attached.
First, Bailey compares the story of Jesus’s interaction with the Samaritan women in John 4 with his interaction with Nicodemus in John 3:1-21. p.201. One of the great themes in John is that Jesus is the light of the world. John 1:3-4, 8:12. Nicodemus is a learned Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin who comes to Jesus under the cover of darkness. In the dark, he fails to understand Jesus’ teachings about who Jesus is. His mind and his spirit are dark. In contrast, the Samaritan woman meets Jesus under the noon-day sun. She understands who he is. Despite (or maybe because of) her lack of social standing and lack of education, she gets it. She is in the light.
Bailey also discusses how Jesus breaks down the separation between himself and the woman. pp.202-05. Jesus breaks down the sex wall between them. As Bailey points out, even today, strange men do not even make eye contact with unknown women. Jesus, however, engages her in conversation. Second Jesus breaks down the ethnic/religious division between them. As Jesus explains it, the differences between Jews and Samaritans cease in the Messiah. Third, Jesus breaks down the pedagogical difference between them. Jesus is the teacher or rabbi, or as she calls him, a prophet. And yet this teacher/prophet/Messiah begins the interaction with a request for assistance from the pupil. He humbles himself to her. In breaking down these walls of separation which exist to preserve the male, Jewish, and rabbinic superiority, he elevates her dignity and her self-worth to his own. This is the gospel – God became human so that we might share in the divine dignity. 2 Pet. 1:4, Gal 4:7.
Bailey also points out that this woman is the first to receive one of Jesus’s many “I Am” statements in John’s Gospel and the first to person to whom Jesus directly discloses his identity as the Messiah. p.211-12. In his conversations with Nicodemus, Jesus speaks of himself in the third person, but with the Samaritan woman, he speaks of himself in the first person. When she confesses that when the Messiah comes, he will teach us everything, Jesus replies “I Am – the one who speaks to you.” John 4:25-26. It is to her, that he first fully discloses his identity.
Finally, this outcast Samaritan woman we meet at the well becomes the first apostle. p.212. After this encounter, John tells us that she left her water jar and went back to the village to proclaim Jesus, and “many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.” John 4:28-29, 39-42. She is, as Bailey calls her, the first female Christian preacher.
Dinner is at 6. The menu is Italian Wedding Soup and Mediterranean Sandwiches. Discussion at 6:45 (You don’t need to have read anything to join us.) Please bring a friend or neighbor.
So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.“John 4:40-42.