Posts Tagged ‘Gospel of John’

What happened in Samaria, doesn’t stay there.

March 19, 2017


Sometimes it is good to spend some time with familiar stories.

John 4:1-42 is the well known story of Jesus and the Woman of Samaria, or the Woman at the Well.  It’s a big story and there are many things to think about when we read it. The writer of John pays a lot of attention to this story. At 42 verses it is one of the longer stories in the Gospel of John. I think it has some things to say about women and how Jesus interacted with them.

  • Jesus talks to her, by himself. Apparently Jesus doesn’t have a problem with a man talking with a woman without someone else around.
  • Jesus also doesn’t have a problem treating her like a person of equal worth.
  • Jesus knows she has been married several times and now lives with a man. And he seems not to care about her marital status or her sex life. His mentioning of her previous husbands and current partner are a statement of reality, and in no way can be read as condemnation or judgement, or as approval. Her marital status and sex life have nothing to do with her encounter with Jesus.
  • After her encounter with Jesus the woman testifies, preaches, evangelizes- call it what you like- to women and to men. And they listen to her and follow her to Jesus. No man other than Jesus “allows” her to do this. Her calling is clear to her and to the others in her village who listen and respond.

This story also has some things to teach us about how we should interact with those who have different theological view.

  • Again, Jesus is respectful, he doesn’t belittle her views. There are no condescending comments about Samaritans.
  • He isn’t distracted by her “lifestyle”or her Samaritan ways.
  • Jesus doesn’t hide who he is or pretend he isn’t engaged in a serious conversation with someone of a different tradition. He doesn’t paper over legitimate differences.

Most interestingly to me, Jesus says that both the Jews and the Samaritans have gotten some of this religion stuff wrong. Neither group completely “owns” the truth. The truth is not ownable.

20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you[c] say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

Spending time with familiar stories helps us remember what we ought to do. Because mostly, I need the reminder.  I need to remember what Jesus taught and how Jesus acted.

Jesus is sometimes not as direct and clear as we might like. It would be much easier, in some ways, if Jesus had simply given us a series of rules and guidelines.

Women this…

Men that….

People with different theological positions…..

But he doesn’t. I used to find this quite annoying. I really wanted rules and some clarity about how to live. Jesus’s way is more subtle and more flexible. It is attentive to the particular situation one is in. It is attentive to whom one is speaking with. Jesus’s way requires us to think about what we are doing and why. Jesus’ way requires us to think about who we are speaking with. Jesus’s way requires us to constantly ask the Spirit for guidance.

The people Jesus encountered knew Jesus by what he said and by what he did.  And it is the same for us. We know Jesus’s will by what he says and by what he does.

The same is true about us. People know who we are by what we say and more importantly by what we do.




Proper Judgment

September 21, 2012


Christ and fhe Adulterous Woman

Christ and fhe Adulterous Woman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) is a familiar story.


Then each of them went home, while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground.When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.Jesus straightened up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, sir.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.


The scribes and Pharisees have selectively applied the law of Moses. They have not brought the required witnesses. The man who was with the woman when she was “caught in the act” is not present. Yet the scribes and Pharisees ask Jesus’ opinion. As the text notes, this was a “test”. What should he say? What will he say?


Jesus responds by writing on the ground. I and many others have wondered, what was Jesus writing? I’ve read all sorts of suggestions, all of them speculative. The text simply does not tell us. The author of John must not have thought it important either. It turns out what is important is the act of writing itself. In the ancient world Jesus’ act of writing would have been recognized as refusal to answer the question, a refusal to participate in that discussion. The scribes and Pharisees are being ignored. Jesus action is intentional and obvious to all present.  When they persist in their questions and Jesus does speak, he doesn’t answer their question does he? Then he disengages from the conversation again.


Usually we think of this story as one that helps us think about the relationship between sin and judgment.We are all sinners and that knowledge ought to temper our judgment of others.  Usually when we quote part of this story, we way something like”Let the one without sin cast the first stone”. And we are usually saying this to correct another. We are reminding someone not to be hasty in their judgment. That’s not wrong, but I also think there is a little more going on here.


When Jesus tells them that the one without sin can be first to throw a stone, how do the scribes and Pharisees decide if they are without sin or not? I suspect they probably thought about Torah and their faithfulness to it. Did they “remember” that they forgot to bring the man involved in the adultery along too? Did they “remember” the lack of witnesses? Did they realize they had twisted Torah to serve their own ends?


Part of what happened here, is that the scribes and Pharisees had to think about the proper use of the Law. Why do we have the Law? Am I living faithfully within it? Torah is the way Israel has to declare its allegiance to the one true God. Torah is the way Israel keeps its focus on God.


Jesus is telling the scribes and Pharisees and us something about proper judgment. Our task is not to judge others. Our task is to judge ourselves. Our task is to keep our eyes on God. To manage the plank in our own eye. It is about standing before God and crying out for mercy because we a sinners.


Usually when I read this story of the woman caught in adultery, I’m glad I’m not like those scribes and pharisees. Of course as soon as I’ve thought that, I have to choose which one I am today, a scribe or a pharisee.


The reality is, I don’t have the time or energy to accuse you of sin, because it’s all I can do to keep myself faithful. I usually say this in a joking sort of way but honestly this is one of the truest statements I ever say.


It is also true that we do this, keeping ourselves faithful, together. We need each other. Not to condemn, but to support. To speak in loving truth to each other and to listen in loving truth.


I’d like to know, what do you think?





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