Meeting Place2008-02-20 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 Schuette2008-02-20 by Cindy Rigby
Mediation and Relational Complexity2008-02-19 by Stephen Schuette
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.
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!From Suffering to Endurance to Character to Hope?2008-02-18 by Cindy Rigby
OK. . . we might as well get it on the table now. Romans 5:3-5 is all well and good if and when suffering does produce endurance, which it often does. Certainly, there are instances in all of our lives, and the lives of those to whom we minister, that we (or they) can point back to, expounding on how we/they emerged stronger in our character and, correspondingly, stronger in our hope. But this text might mark one of those times when Paul is a little thin, in the pastoral care category, when it comes to those people, and those moments, when suffering does not produce endurance. Suffering, all too often, leads to unrelenting despair, to a weakening of character, to an apparent absence of hope. Does that mean that hope is lost? Certainly not! we (and, I’m sure, Paul) would quickly say. “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (v. 5) whether we “endure” suffering or not. Christ died for us “while we are still weak” (v. 6) – when our endurance was low and our character not strong. We are saved through him (v. 9), not through ourselves or through our experiences. But using vv. 6 ff to subtly negate vv. 3-5 is too easy, too lazy, and not faithful to the text. What in the world should we do, then, with vv. 3-5? How should it be preached?The Samaritan Woman and Evangelism2008-02-18 by Cindy Rigby
The Samaritan Woman and Evangelism
I’ve been thinking about what the Samaritan woman at the well, in John 4, has to teach us about evangelism. Obviously, Jesus teaches us a lot about evangelism in this text (to meet people where they are, to respect what they have to offer, to be creative in our approaches, to take risks – we might want to blog more about these, this week). But what does the Samaritan woman teach us? Clearly (and I make this point in disagreement with John Calvin, BTW – more on that, later!), the woman at the well is an evangelist. She proclaims the good news to her community. She returns to the city and insists that the people come and meet Jesus for themselves, asking if he could be the Messiah. Her testimony is convincing (v. 39), and “many believe” because of it. I absolutely love verses 41-42. While “many believe” because of the word of the woman (v. 39), “many more believe” because of the word of Jesus, spoken to them in the two days he winds up spending with them (v. 41). And they say to the woman, in v. 42: “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves. . . “ I am convinced that the words of her townspeople, in verse 42, bring the Samaritan woman great joy. She, as an evangelist, has never been interested in people believing in Jesus because of her. Her goal has always been to get them in immediate contact with Jesus. “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!” she insists. I imagine the townspeople saying: “That’s OK, we’ll take your word for it, we’ve got stuff to do,” and the woman not taking “no” for an answer. It wouldn’t surprise me, given her passion, if she literally dragged some of her friends to the well, physically. Evangelism in this text, it seems, is not just telling people about Jesus, but about insisting that they meet him for themselves. No higher compliment can be paid to us, as those who share the Gospel, than that we have become incidental. For our testimony to become obsolete in relationship to the testimony of the one who has “met him for” his- or herself is our essential, integral part in the work of proclaiming the Good News. Is this our greatest goal, our greatest joy, our greatest desire?
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