Wednesday, 17 December 2008

An unnamed woman

Today I am off to a meeting of the Baptist Union Task Group on Women In Ministry. So, a thought about an unnamed woman…

John 4:15-19 (NRSV)
The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water."
Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come back." The woman answered him, "I have no husband." Jesus said to her, "You are right in saying, 'I have no husband'; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!" The woman said to him, "Sir, I see that you are a prophet.

My received reading:
The woman at the well is a sinner, and Jesus exposes her sin, offering her the living water of a new and less sinful way of life. By this reading, she is a serial user of men, she is profligate, objectified, adulterous, and her encounter with Jesus’ mysterious knowledge of her circumstances is what paves the way for her to change her sinful ways.

But what if:
She is not a sinner at all. What if she is a victim? Passed from man to man like piece of property, and currently owned by one who will not even give her the legal security of marriage. What if Jesus’ statement of her circumstances is not offered in judgment, but compassion? Her task is to fetch water for her partner and his family, a task symbolic of her broader enslavement. What if Jesus’ gift of living water is the gift of equality? She draws water for him, he gives water to her. His gift elicits change, yes, but not in the way it is often understood. The gift of equality means that she no longer needs to ‘keep coming here to draw water’, because she is no longer property. She is herself.

1 comment:

Catriona said...

Thank you for this. I have preached along similar lines in the past... what if she was five times widowed, five times sent away as 'displeasing,' five times a victim of domestic violence or sexual abuse? Even if she was - as usually seems to be assumed - a 'woman of ill repute' what had driven her to that life-style?

Hope your meeting goes well, and thank you for being part of this group within Baptist life.