Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Woman with the Water Jug

Today in Bible study I encountered a particular passage. Sometimes one receives precisely the message one needs at the time. The topic centered around the idea of salvation, in all its many incarnations. I have recently become frustrated with people who believe that any movement, system of belief, or gathering is only for them when it benefits them personally. In all of the things I do, I have experienced periods of emotional, intellectual, and spiritual famine. Yet, I have continued forward, striving to receive the guidance that was once present so acutely that I never needed to doubt it.

To provide some needed context, Jesus spoke to draw a sharp distinction between the water of this world that slakes the thirst only of our physical bodies and the restoring water that is present only with belief and salvation. A woman carrying a water jug spoke to him, taking his words literally, rather than metaphorically. She was eager to find a way to make her life easier and thought she had discovered the means.

The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water so that I won't get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water."

He told her, "Go, call your husband and come back." "I don't have a husband," the woman replied.

Jesus said, "You're right! You don't have a husband--for you have had five husbands, and you aren't even married to the man you're living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!"

The literal interpretation of this causes me to bristle a bit, but if we look at it a bit differently, the message is quite useful to the current day. The woman with the water jug led a difficult life, one complicated by not having the support and assistance of a husband. And by husband we mean someone responsible and reliable. The man she happened to be living with evidently felt no compulsion to help her, and it is quite feasible that her frequent divorces revealed a pattern of bad decisions and poor choices. Perhaps she married for all the wrong reasons, not realizing that any relationship should not be undertaken purely for selfish ends. Jesus' intent, I firmly believe, was not to shame or guilt her, but rather to underline the consequences of her actions.

"Sir," the woman said, "I can see that you are a prophet. So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?"

The Samaritans were, as is evident from the Parable of the Good Samaritan, considered a half-breed race. They had Hebrew lineage but they had over time intermarried with Gentile tribes. From a Jewish perspective, that Jesus even bothered to speak to her in the first place was most unusual. Most wouldn't have even bothered. This explains the response of the Samaritan woman, who, speaking out of bitterness, shows a plain resentment in how she phrased her question. "[Y]ou Jews," she says, dismissively.

The woman, clearly made uncomfortable, had tried to change the subject, talking instead about theological and political differences. We ourselves have been guilty of the same behavior, particularly when a personal revelation cuts too close to the bone. We feel exposed, so we try to transfer the blame to someone else. Someone has pointed out a hard truth about us that we try to keep hidden, so we lash out, putting them on the spot. We're really talking about ourselves, but we disguise our hurt feelings with the introduction of another topic altogether.

Jesus replied, "Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem."

So it doesn't really matter where we worship or under what conditions we worship. What matters only is how we worship, and with that what our intentions are. For those who are not people of faith, one could say that it doesn't matter the package in which our devotion arrives and exists. The distinctions don't matter, nor do the words. There is no sole place of worship or an exchange of ideas. The details shouldn't get in the way of the personal revelation.

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