Home, Family and Security
Everyone needs a home base. We feel safe at our home base. We feel at home. Early childhood development shows that when children feel safe, they become curious and they explore. When children feel insecure and unsafe, of course with some personality differences and exceptions, they are anxious about exploring the world – often described as being “clingy” or having a separation anxiety.
Have you seen toddlers and little children at play in playgrounds? The will seemingly roam around for a bit. Then, they will spot their guardian or come back for a hug. They check in with their home-base, then go play again.
As we grow, we create our home-base in order to feel safe. Sometimes these are social clubs. Sometimes these are religious organizations. Sometimes these are political affiliations. Sometimes these are hobbyist groups and special interests groups. Some gather around a particular cause. Whatever the common ground people find, there is often something that is characterized as the group’s affinity.
Affinity: a natural attraction of feeling of kinship
a close connection marked by community of interests, similarity in nature/character
We feel safe with things we are familiar with. There’s sense of loss when the familiar goes away. Even with changes that are not negatively correlated are considered in psychology as traumatic events/changes: wedding, moving, going to college, joining workforce. People change. Routine changes. We are confronted with a different parts of the society with different ideas about our society and us. Even in our adult lives, we seek our home-base.
My Home Against Your Home
The Jews had their home-base in Jerusalem. The Samaritans had their home-base in Samaria. They both claimed their home-base to be the authentic place of worship of God. The problem wasn’t that they had a different home-base. The problem had to do with their denial of the toher’s home-base. From today’s passage the barrier between the two cultic centers is quite clear: the tmple in Jerusalem and the shrine at Mt. Gerizim.
The Samaritans built a shrine on Mt. Gerizim during the Persian period and claimed that this shrine, not the Jerusalem Temple, was the proper place of worship. The shrine at Mt. Gerizim was destroyed by Jewish troops in 128 BCE but the schism between Jews and Samaritans continued (cf. John 4:9).
(Gail R. O’Day, New Interpreters Bible: Luke and John, 563)
The tension is real here. Suppose that a group from a different denomination (Let’s make one up: Perfect and Same Christians Only – PASCO) comes to our church and destroys and vandalizes our sanctuary. Not only will we have a certain feelings towards PASCO, but we will likely to be united like we’ve never been united before. It might even feel good that we find ourselves with the unifying feeling. Even those who didn’t get along in our church will begin to get along for the common cause, or rather, the common enemy. Unity. Family. Affinity. These are not inherently bad. However, they are no longer Christlike when it means hating others.
We can be Quick to Judge Others: Moralizing Others’ Lives…
Notice that the disciples leave Jesus, then Jesus talks to this Samaritan woman. Much speculation has been made about this woman. Five ex-husbands and now with a partner. She comes to draw water in the heat of the noon time. The popular interpretation is that she was a “sinner” and a victim of shame culture. Raymond Brown and some other scholars question whether we draw our conclusion too quickly: “Verses 16-19 have been consistently misinterpreted, resulting in the popular portrait of this woman as a sinner. The text is not, as interpreters almost unanimously assume (Brown, The Gospel According to John (I-XII), 171), evidence of the woman’s immorality. Jesus does not judge her; any moral judgments are imported into the text by interpreters. There are many possible reasons for her marital history other than her moral laxity. Perhaps the woman, like Tamar in Genesis 38, is trapped in the custom of levirate marriage (Deut 25:5-10; see also Luke 20:27-33), and the last male in the family line has refused to marry her. Significantly, the reasons for the woman’s marital history intrigue commentators but do not concern Jesus.” (O’Day, New Interpreters Bible: Luke and John, 567) Sometimes we are more obsessed about moralizing about other people’s lives than it is beneficial for us. Jesus certainly doesn’t linger on this with the Samaritan woman.
One more interesting insertion. Given John’s tendency to use two-fold meanings, this may be another possibility. The unnamed Samaritan woman, in a way, is a spokesperson for Samaria. (notice her second person plural…) When the northern Israel was exiled by the Assyrians, “the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath and Sepharvaim and settled them in the town of Samaria to replace the Israelites.” (2 Kings 17:24) Settling of peoples from other regions would have meant settling of other region’s local deities and cultic practices. In the Old Testament prophets where adultery and apostasy were expressed metaphorically, the Samaritan woman’s five previous marriages could have inferred pluralistic nature of their regional religious practices. The dialogue between Jesus and the woman develop into the matter of religious practices, which may reflect on the particular theme of fidelity to God. Jesus does affirm here, that Salvation is from the Jews. (v.22)
Nevertheless, Jesus doesn’t judge the Samaritan woman. Jesus doesn’t even say, “Your sins are forgiven.” This dialogue isn’t primarily about moral issues regarding the woman. The woman in the dialogue does not show any sign of being timid for feeling ashamed in this conversation. She is actually quite bold and perhaps even self-differentiated enough to hold her own for some time in the conversation. Consider the following, which she spoke boldly:
“You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (4:9)
“Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?” (4:11) My paraphrasing: “You say you have this ‘living water?’ You don’t even have a bucket.”
As the conversations develops, he continues to be inquisitive. She is curious, and she is not afraid to call things as she sees/understands it.
Jesus’ Scandalous Breach, Crossing Barriers
The Samaritan woman’s personal life and history are not what’s scandalous in this passage. It is not any possibility of her moral laxity that is scandalous either. What’s scandalous about his passage is that Jesus breaks a couple of important social conventions of that time. The disciples “returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”” (John 4:27) This was a big deal.
[v9] The Samaritan woman responds to Jesus’ request with amazement because it violates two societyal conventions. First, a Jewish man did not initiate conversation with an unknown woman. Moreover, a Jewish teacher did not engage in public conversation with a awoman (“Hence the sages have said: He that talks much with womankind brings evil upon himself and neglects the study of the law and at the last will inherit Gehenna.” p. Abot 1:5; cf. 4:27). Second, Jews did not invite contact with Samaritans. The Fourth Evangelist’s aside in v. 9c underscores the seriousness of the breach between Jews and Samaritans. A fear of ritual contamination (note the alternate translation of v.9c in the NIV – “or do not use dishes Samaritans have used”) developed into a prohibition of all social intercourse.(Gail R. O’Day, NIB IX: Luke and John, 565-566)
In other places in the Bible, Jesus warns about communities that are like a “family,” with an extreme sense of affinity. A family-like family sometimes has its side-effects of indifference, alienation, fear and even hatred towards outsiders. The warning is for the impenetrable, navel-gazing, family-like communities. Jesus describes that such a community is like Sodom and Gomorrah. In the same chapter (Matthew 10:15) he told such a family/community: “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but a sword.”
Jesus crosses a barrier, and it became a scandalous event. Jesus reverses the scandal of communities that cannot seem to understand that Jesus brought sword that slashes our impenetrable, strong barrier against the other. Eugene Peterson puts it this way:
In the previous chapter, Nicodemus risks his reputation by being seen with Jesus. [John 3]
Here, Jesus risks his reputation by being seen with the Samaritan woman [John 4]
There is a sense of ignoring conventions here on both sides, a crossing of the lines of caution, a willingness on both sides to risk misunderstanding. When we get close to the heart of things, we aren’t dealing with assured results or conventional behavior. So –
A man and a woman.
City and country.
An insider and an outsider.
A professional and a layperson.
A respectable man and a disreputable woman.
An orthodox and a heretic.
One who takes initiative; one who lets it be taken.
One named, the other anonymous.
Human reputation at risk; divine reputation at risk.
There is also this; In both conversations “spirit” is the pivotal word. “Spirit” links the differences and contrasts in the two stories [Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman] and makes them aspects of one story. (Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Thousand Places, 18)
Only towards the end of his conversation with the Samaritan woman, Jesus declares that we will worship the Father in spirit and truth. But it all began with Nicodemus risking his social reputation and Jesus risking divine reputation. Amen.