For while now I have been wanting to write a number of posts, the Spiritually Sensitive Sinners Series. The snake hiss-like acronym (Ssss) has a hint of thematic onomatopoeia, which seems kind of cool. Unfortunately, for now this is a series of one.
Jesus’ encounter with the woman from Samaria has been on my mind. You will recall that as the story goes in the fourth
chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus leaves Judea for Galilee and must travel through Samaria along the way. While in Samaria he stops at Jacob’s well outside the town of Sychar; it is there that he meets a Samaritan woman and asks her to draw water so he can have a drink. The two get to talking and about halfway through their conversation every sermon I have ever heard on this passage throws the Samaritan woman under a bus.
What happens is this: In the course of their dialogue, Jesus asks the woman to go get her husband. The woman tells Jesus she does not have a husband. Jesus commends the woman for answering honestly and tells her that she has “had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband.” The woman responds, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” And that is the point at which modern-day preachers like to make fun of the Samaritan woman. For they say Jesus trapped her with a zinger, revealing he knew all about her loose lifestyle. They say the Samaritan woman was embarrassed by Jesus and she tried to change the topic. Here is an example of this common line of reasoning from Merril Tenney’s commentary John: The Gospel of Belief.
This disclosure of His knowledge shocked her and put her on the defensive. Like many others whose moral position is challenged, she took refuge in arguing impersonally about religion. Acknowledging Him as a prophet, she immediately sought to divert His inquiry by asking Him the question which for years had divided Jew from Samaritan.
The idea is that the woman did not want Jesus prying into the details of her bedroom antics and so she tried to divert the conversation to an irrelevant matter of religious hairsplitting.
But I am not so sure. What if she is not trying to avoid the conversation but inviting it to go deeper? What if she is thinking, “Okay, you seem to know what you are talking about, how about I ask you to explain the big religious question of our times? Because my soul is sensitive to big religious questions.” And notice, after Jesus does explain the big religious question, how she responds. She goes deeper. “Okay, that was a good answer to the big religious question of our times, tell me what you know about Messiah. After all, that is the biggest religious question of all time.” Jesus tells her exactly what he knows about Messiah. Then she responds this way:
The Samaritan woman hurries off and stirs up her town of Sychar saying, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did.” Let me put on my Eugene Peterson hat to see if I can paraphrase this sentence:
Hey everyone! Listen to this. You know all that I ever did. It’s the talk of the town. How I have been passed around by the men of this place. You know how each divorce meant remarriage to a baser guy. Five times! And now I’m feeding at the bottom of the barrel with a creep who will not even offer me the courtesy of marriage in exchange for a tumble in bed. You know how all of you cannot stand me and everything that my life represents. Well, guess what? I just met a complete stranger who knew all of that, too. He sounds like a prophet. Do you want to come meet him? Maybe he is the Christ!
This is a woman, whose moral position is challenged, gets defensive and tries to divert? It is an odd form of obfuscation to go get your enemies to introduce them to a savior. Perhaps this is the purest form of spiritual sensitivity: not only being transparent about our sins and confessing them, but when the solution to our failure arrives we tell the good news to our enemies.