Thursday, 25 June 2009

The Woman at the Well

Ken Bailey’s lectures on Jesus Interprets His Own Cross brushed past John 4 and he made some great observations that got me thinking about social practice and typology…

The woman is clearly a loose woman. She comes alone, in the middle of the day and when she sees Jesus at the well she does not wait for him to get up and stand aside, as etiquette demanded, but comes close enough (possibly even climbing on the stones herself) that Jesus can say to her, “Give me a drink”.

She doesn’t come to the well at midday (when it’s far too hot to be working outside and the water is not as nice) because if she went at dawn the respectable women would shoo her away – yes – but also because she would be more likely to find men there and be able to ply her trade uninterrupted.

Jesus asks for water from the defiled bucket of a despised Samaritan, something a first century Jew would never do. He also cuts across Rabininc tradition and conservative social mores by speaking to a woman in public. That’s one in the eye for Islamic (and any extreme Christian) practices of gender segregation. Meeting a member of the opposite sex one-to-one in private is usually unwise, sure, but the public realm does not need fencing and hedging in order to wrap women up and mute them. Jesus ignores unhelpfully restrictive social constructions of space, privacy, ‘ownership’ of women, etc.

And here we see Israel’s King put in a position of temptation by a foreign woman. Just as Bathsheba (presumably a Hittite like her husband) bathed on the roof knowing full well that David would see her, so the Samaritan woman approaches Jesus as a potential client. And while David folded without much resistance, grasped and murdered, leading to great sorrow and more death, David’s greater Son refuses to play the game. He offers life, demonstrating costly love for a fallen human being, that leads to transformation and joy.