Submitted by Visitor (not verified) on Tue, 08/12/2009 – 14:17
Bible Book:John / Johannes
Verse: 4 – 30

This reflection was initially written as sermon guidelines for World AIDS Day 2005

1. Central theme:
Every human being is created in the image of God and endowed with dignity and worth. To stigmatise a person or group of people is sinful because we set ourselves up as judges, forgetting that only God can judge, and we do not uphold and value the dignity and worth of every person.

2. Background to the text:
In order to understand the import of this conversation we need to know that the Samaritans were unique among the many religious groups in the Bible. They are best understood as a conservative group within the total spectrum of Judaism, while at the same time they were considered not wholly kosher. They had their own version of the Pentateuch, kept the Sabbath very strictly and for the Samaritans Mt Gerizim had greater claim to veneration than Mt Zion. Thus they were identified with Judaism but distinct from the larger Jewish community. It is likely that there was acute antagonism between the Jews and the Samaritans and that the Jewish establishment looked down on them. They experienced stigma.

It is also important to know that a Jewish teacher (a rabbi) would not be seen talking to a woman in public, let alone a Samaritan woman. A Jewish man having a conversation with a Samaritan woman was a scandal. This was in conflict with religious, cultural and social norms. Jesus not only speaks to this woman, but asks her for water, from her own jar. Long standing traditional religious, cultural and social conventions swirl around the engagement of these two people.

3. The text:
• Jesus chooses to break through all boundaries by engaging in a conversation with a Samaritan woman.

• The Samaritan woman is aware of her marginalised status. (v.9). Perhaps she has internalised this labelling. She is surprised that Jesus asks her for water so she understands the cultural constraints that are in place in her world.

• However, at the same time, the Samaritan woman is not just passive. She questions things. Through her questioning she enters into the conversation fully. She is aware of who she is and what she has to offer. Jesus has no bucket and the well is deep. She knows that she is able to help him.

• Even if she does not know Jesus as the Messiah and calls him a prophet, she knows the Messiah is coming who “will proclaim all things to us”. This demonstrates that her faith is based on hope for the coming of the Messiah.

• The Samaritan woman does not act the victim. She asserts herself in this open and questioning conversation and in so doing she receives immeasurable grace.

• Jesus, as he has often done before, challenges the status quo which labelled people ‘clean’ or ‘unclean’; ‘chosen’ or ‘rejected’, ‘holy’ or ‘unholy’, by speaking to this woman. Who may speak to whom was not his concern.• He is thirsty and turns to this woman for water, a person who bears the stigma of being ‘different’.

• Although her gender, religious status, and social standing marginalise her and set her ‘outside the camp’ of mainstream Judaism, Jesus reveals himself to her in a number of steps. He takes his need for water and turns it into a metaphor for saving grace; he meets the woman on a personal level by opening her history but not judging her; he teaches her the nature of true worship (“in spirit and in truth”); and lastly, he reveals his Messianic calling to her – a revelation that is astounding to say the least.

• Jesus invites her into God’s reign by honouring her confession of faith, regardless of cultural, gender and religious taboos [as if to say indeed what can separate us from the love of Christ?]

• Hereby Jesus affirms her humanity and her identity as a bearer of the image of God.

• In fact, Jesus is saying: “Nothing else matters, no labels, no stigmas, you are a child of God”.

• The disciples know the socio-cultural and religious norms of the day, and are astonished to find Jesus talking to a Samaritan woman in public.
– Is their instinctive reaction to label or stigmatise? How can their Rabbi have a conversation with this woman?
– They do not speak what is in their hearts and ask him why he is doing this. Their questions remain unasked. What is this saying about them?
– They remain on-lookers and observers.
• Jesus reveals his Messianic calling to the one who is ‘the Other’.\
• The one who is labelled and stigmatised, becomes the bearer of the Good News.
• Jesus breaks the barriers of social and religious stigmas by affirming the human worth and dignity of the marginalised and, in so doing, sets them free.

4. Links to other texts of the day:
• The link to the Genesis text is obvious throughout.
• Ps 8 affirms the inestimable worth of humanity in the eyes of God – see v4-5. Please read this text in an inclusive version; “What are human beings that you are mindful of them…”
• Rom 8:31-39 – Hardship. Distress, persecution, nakedness, distress (v35), etc. are descriptions of the human condition. Experiencing stigma is like being reduced to nakedness. It is distressing, it creates hardship and, yes, even persecution. Yet, nothing that we human beings can do to one another can separate us from the love of God in Christ. This the story of the Samaritan woman demonstrates amply.

Author: Ackerman D (Dr) and Lundo J
Language: English