The Feminist at the Well

Clickbait alert! Sorry, but having worked in advertising for many years, I just can’t help it. I don’t know if I get to call the Samaritan woman a feminist or not, but here’s why I used that title.

Last Sunday we discussed the story in John 4:5-42 and what it might tell us about encountering the Transcendent. I shared how this woman didn’t respond to Jesus the way we might expect. She didn’t simply give him water because he asked for it. She didn’t ignore him because he was a Jewish man. Instead she challenged him, the way any man would challenge an equal. She asked him why he, a Jew, was speaking to her, a Samaritan woman. That sounds like a perfectly normal question to us, but in a culture where Jewish men normally looked down on Samaritans and even more so on women, it was audacious. A woman might well behave this way in the privacy of her own home, but not in public, with a stranger and outsider.

She went on to challenge his claim to be able to give everlasting water. She didn’t ask about the nature of this magical water, but instead asked how it could be better than the water provided by the well dug by the patriarch Jacob. There was a dance going on where she was challenging the notion that Jews were better than Samaritans. Even when she acknowledged Jesus as a ‘Prophet’, she challenged the notion of Jewish superiority. If we ignore the context, we just see a conversation being directed by Jesus. In context, this was a challenge and response exchange between two ‘equals’ and she was holding her own quite well. She was a confident, thoughtful and intelligent woman, not afraid to speak up and confront Jesus, and because of that she had an encounter with the transcendent. Jesus declared to her, “I am the messiah”, the chosen one that both Jews and Samaritans were waiting for.

When we consider seeking the transcendent we need to be open to the experience. We learn from this woman that openness is often an active attitude rather than a passive one. God is not afraid of our questions, doubts or challenges, but being open means we have to seriously want to know the answers. We don’t have to accept easy or ‘pat’ answers, but we do have to be prepared to honestly wrestle with difficult answers.