Less to lose. . . and more?
2008-02-22 by Cindy Rigby

I’m thinking about Stephen’s point that the woman may have had a lot less to lose, in terms of power and prestige, than Nicodemas. And so Nicodemas leaves his encounter with Jesus even more anxious, maybe because he in some sense “gets” what Jesus is saying. To be born again requires losing some of what one has “got,” some of one’s power, and some of one’s prestige. Certainly, it means losing one’s identity – one’s self, Scripture teaches – as we have known it. (I think of what Ann Lamott says, along these lines: that the last thing she wanted to tell her liberal friends was that she “found Jesus”!). Those of us who have a certain modicum of power, prestige, and identity; those of us who count ourselves (at least on some days!) as spiritual leaders may relate better to Nicodemus, thinking that opening ourselves up to Jesus (and, for that matter, the townspeople) would be a lot easier if we were more like the woman at the well, having less to lose.

But I also think we can look at this matter another way. What I mean is this: isn’t the risk the Samaritan woman takes, in being open to Jesus, in some sense even greater than that Nicodemus is being asked to take? Isn’t it greater precisely because the woman doesn’t have a lot to lose, and so risks losing everything? Whatever her reputation with the townspeople, she is clearly respected enough that they “believe. . . because of” her word and respond to her insistence that they go and meet Jesus. In urging them to come to the well, isn’t she risking that she might be proven a fool?

I wonder if we are willing to risk as much as she who has little, but everything, to lose.

 

 





Cindy, Stephen and "Lectionary Homiletics" Highlights
2008-02-22 by David von Schlichten

What a pleasure it has been to listen to Stephen Schuette and guest blogger Cindy Rigby converse with such depth and warmth. Things are bubbling here in the tub. This is just what I need as I recover from the flu.

Speaking of salubrious, go to Free Samples from Lectionary Homiletics under Share It! To enjoy a free “Preaching the Lesson” article from Anna Carter Florence.

Exegesis”

Janyce C. Jorgensen and others point out that this conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman is the longest dialogue in the Gospels. Jorgensen also notes that, in Greek, the woman's question about whether Jesus is the Messiah expects a negative answer. The woman is uncertain, has work-in-progress faith, but she still is able to be a witness. The woman still invites others to “come and see,” an invitation that recurs throughout John's gospel. Overall, the passage serves to reveal Jesus' identity and put into boldface Jesus' “mission and purpose” (p. 28), which has a universal quality.

Preaching the Lesson”

Especially poignant and salutary is Florence's question, “What would it be like to set out on our errands today, expecting that Jesus will show up, any minute?” (p. 34). We can encounter Jesus at the gas pump, the hardware store, in the person who mows his lawn three times a week, and in the woman who's up running every morning at five (p. 34).

“A Sermon: An Invitation to Life – A Water Jar Left at the Well

William G. Davidson's sermon leads the reader/hearer to this evocative question, “What does it mean to leave the water jar?” Just as the Samaritan woman left behind her water jar, so also Jesus invites us to do likewise. What burdens do we leave behind at the well so that we can invite others to come and see?

Speaking of water, I'm climbing out of the tub to towel off and get a cold drink of water, remembering my baptism, wondering what I am carrying and what Christ wants me to lay down for his sake,

Ever yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator





Meeting Place
2008-02-20 by Stephen Schuette

Thanks to Cindy for the amplification that makes clearer the contrasts with Nicodemus.  It does seem those details could hardly be arbitrary – not only the times of day, but the contrasting ways in which Nicodemus and the woman respond to Jesus.  Isn’t it typical that there is more work to do with “insiders” than “outsiders” …what with all the baggage of assumptions that the (or we) insiders bring?

(Thanks, too, for the wonderfully humorous comment regarding boundaries!!)

A colleague pointed out to me the place might be significant too.  There’s the obvious but not-to-be-overlooked fact that Jesus speaks with a woman who is both woman and Samaritan.  But my friend suggests that the well is the place where people of different backgrounds gather.  All people go for water – no matter their ethnicity, politics, faith, gender, orientation, martial status, age…  I know I tend to think of people in these ancient contexts as much more homogeneous than they were.  Maybe it’s that the leap back from our context to theirs seems greater than any difference among them, right?  Wrong!  Maybe the modern parallel is the quick stop.

Another interesting conversation point is the difference in anxiety levels.  Maybe it’s why the woman is never named.  An unnamed Samaritan woman who has had five husbands may have little to lose.  A named teacher in Israel has a lot to lose.  Her world is “opened” with Good News.  I get the sense that Nicodemus was as shaken when he left as when he arrived.  Of course, the woman was shaken too, but in another way.  It makes me want to know more about both of them…. “the rest of the story…”

Or maybe, in a way, we’re writing the rest of the story…we who come from our different places, with our different assumptions, with our perspectives on how we measure “gain” and “loss” – all of us who have had an encounter with Jesus and can’t quite shake it.





Response to Stephen Schuette
2008-02-20 by Cindy Rigby

Thanks for your instructive comments on John 4.  I think it is very useful to think of the conversation between Jesus and the woman as a conversation between people from different faith traditions. One of the top concerns people in the pews seem to have, these days (right up there with theodicy) is how to live, and engage, in a pluralistic world (one good book on this subject, FYI, is:  Christian Belief in a Postmodern World, by Diogenes Allen). Maybe this text holds possibilities for helping us shape interreligious dialog.

You raise the matter of the “relational complexity” of the text, including in this discussion ponderings about its relationship to John 3.  Very interesting contrast you draw, between Nicodemus coming to Jesus “by nite” (secretively) and the woman coming to Jesus not only openly and in the day, but at noon (right smack in the middle of the day – when the day is at its sunniest!).  Nicodemus is skeptical (“how can I go back in my mother’s womb. . . “) and the woman is painfully open and accepting of Jesus’s claims (it occurs to me that it is not that surprising that Jesus can tell her “everything she ever did.”  She is an open book!  Needs to develop better boundaries, if you ask me!).

Love the Wright quote about conflict ending in divorce.  What’s with us, in this regard?  Why is it, exactly, that we are “anxious peace-keepers” rather than “bold peace-makers” (what a great way of putting it.  Though some of us are doing well even to be the former!).  Is there anything we can learn from the texts, this week, about being “bold peace-makers”?  Is the lack of anxiety on the woman’s part, in contrast to Nicodemus’ anxiety, significant, in this regard?  Could the woman’s (BTW, wish she had a name, like Nicodemus.  “The woman” gets tiresome, doesn’t it?) won’t-take-“no”-for-an-answer insistence that the townspeople come and meet Jesus for themselves be considered a kind of “peacemaking”?  Certainly, she is bold and not anxious.

Complex relationships.  Layers of them.  I’ll be thinking about that, today.  Thanks for feeding the hopper.

Cindy





Mediation and Relational Complexity
2008-02-19 by Stephen Schuette

Thanks for the comments about the Samaritan woman as evangelist.  While she proclaims her faith to her community following the encounter with Jesus, she also clearly affirms a hopeful faith even to Jesus himself (vs. 25).  As a Samaritan this faith would be centered and grounded in Torah alone (Deut. 18:18), and have nothing to do with later prophetic or priestly-temple traditions (vs. 21).  I don’t know how accurate the parallel might be, but it makes me think of the Samaritans as something of the Mennonites of Hebrew faith.  The exchange suggests you don’t need the prophetic traditions of later Judaism to have Messianic dimensions to faith.

So if we think of the conversation as between separate faith communities that have some common touch points it seems that Jesus and the woman are finding common ground at Jacob’s well.  Maybe it’s good the disciples were otherwise occupied for they may have interrupted what is happening and begun another church fight.

Could it be that Jesus is in the role of a mediator in this text with the conservatives, between Jews and Samaritans, paralleling the way that the Gospel often moves in the other direction too…drawing a circle of inclusion with Jew and Gentile?  Or maybe the story is meant to be a bookend with Nicodemus:  an insider and an outsider meet Jesus (one secretly at night and the other openly in public).  At any rate, a mediator’s purpose is reconciliation.  There is all sorts of relational complexity in the text – not just between Jew and Samaritan but also the woman and her husbands, and at the end between the woman and her community or evangelites (as Cindy suggests).

 Preaching points…  I heard Jeremiah Wright at McCormick Seminary yesterday offer some quotable quotes (as always).  “We’re not good in the church at disagreeing with each other without getting a divorce.”  Or on the imbalance in our role as prophet-priests - we are sometimes anxious peace-keepers rather than bold peace-makers.

The story seems rich in the invitation to explore relational complexity and to connect with Jesus’ vision.

PS-See Paul Galbreath’s comments in this week’s Theological Themes regarding reconciliation…and reference to Jacob and Esau.  Certainly Jacob himself knew complexity in his relationships!





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