From Pastor Kenny's Desk
May 13, 2018
President Donald Trump calling Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman.”
Mitch McConnell silencing Senator Elizabeth Warren, using his voice to proclaim: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted” giving strong women everywhere a new mantra.
The Women’s March(es).
International Women’s Day with its theme: #BeBoldForChange & #PressforProgress
“The Fearless Girl” facing down the Bull on Wall Street reminding us of the severe gender disparity on corporate boards.
What a time to be a woman in America! On the one hand, many people of all genders have been motivated by all of the above to work for political, economic, and religious gender justice. There’s energy, hope and willpower galore. Others are experiencing activism fatigue, or are uncertain about how or whether to get involved. Wherever you find yourself in the mix, let’s listen to discover a few clues for the way forward from the story of the Samaritan woman … she’s the spiritual matriarch of nasty (disdained), persistent, and fearless women across the centuries. Even now … especially now … I LOVE this woman! I hope you do, too! At the very least, we have things to learn from her way of being in the world.
Watch the following movie clip of the story of the Samaritan Woman...
This is a story about crossing borders of various kinds. It’s a story about a strong woman … who may not have felt very strong … surviving and even thriving in a society that privileged male power. It’s about a woman who lived to … #BeBoldForChange … #PressforChange. She’s bold … she’s informed ... she stands her ground and doesn’t back down at the male gaze or natural authority based on gender. Jesus literally crosses a geographical border when he goes from Judea to Samaria on his way to Galilee. He crosses ethnic, political, religious borders by being a Jew interacting with a Samaritan. Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans. He crosses a serious gender border by meeting a woman all alone at a well …wells were the meeting place of future spouses. Therefore, it’s not surprising that talk of her husbands would come up.
Speaking of her husbands … Jesus says she’s had five husbands and the one she’s living with now isn’t her husband. I continue to be surprised and disappointed by ubiquitous interpretations of her as a “whore” or “prostitute.” John is using symbolism … the woman represents Samaria, which, according to Jewish reckoning worshipped the five foreign gods. Samaria was seen as partially faithful to the covenant … the one you have now is not your husband. When a Samaritan woman joins Jesus, the two divided but were related ethnic groups will be unified. They will stop fighting … in this case over whom or where God favors more … Jerusalem or Mt. Gerizim: Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship Abba God neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship Abba God in spirit and truth…In antiquity … and often today … a woman without a man was in a vulnerable position, since there was no financial gender equity. The text gives us no reason for why she had numerous husbands. Did they die? Leave? Invariably, interpreters make her out to be a “nasty woman” with no basis. Typical move for a woman whose story doesn’t fit the approved narrative of what good girls do. People impose meaning into this text but never does it include sympathy for the reality of this woman in a vulnerable position asking why the husbands are not there and how dire her circumstances might have been as she tried to survive. The Bible has plenty of words for whore and prostitute. She’s not one of them. She’s instead, as we’ll see, a “nasty woman” in the best sense of the word. Why?
The Samaritan woman knew her stuff and welcomed productive debate. Jesus approaches her and makes a request of her as she is alone at the well. No doubt she’s street smart enough to be on guard. She’s no shrinking violet: How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria? She immediately recognizes and names their differences, drawing attention to the fact that it’s unlikely their conversation is going to be productive. Yet, she engages, even if guardedly. She may not have high hopes at the moment, but neither has she allowed cynicism to define her being.
Both she and Jesus are willing to be vulnerable and really risk something for the sake of faith. He had to go to Samaria for vocational reasons … she meets his need. She needs water … he meets her need. He risks critique for talking to a woman who is a Samaritan. She risks ridicule when she testifies to other Samaritans that he is someone worth following, even though he’s not one of them. #BeingBoldForChange … #PressforProgress requires vulnerability.
The Samaritan woman nevertheless persisted in the face of those who would silence her. The disciples act as a foil for the woman who is one of the first proclaimers of the good news of the healing, wholeness, and life that Jesus brings. When they see Jesus interacting with her, they balk.
Anyone who wants to #BeBoldForChange or #PressforProgress at this point needs a lesson on intersectionality. Intersectionality recognizes that one’s identity is made up of numerous embodied aspects that are valued differently and hierarchically in a society. Males have more value and power than females. Nondisabled people more than disabled; straight more than gay; white more than black; etc. When one is both female and an ethnic minority, that’s a double-whammy. This is the reality of the Samaritan woman, from the perspective of the disciples. But she ignores the haters and follows her path with Jesus. While they are scratching their heads, she is growing the kingdom of God through her sharing of the new life she found in Jesus. She and Jesus are each grounded faithfully in their own scriptures and traditions, but they know when it is necessary to cross traditional boundaries to be true to the tradition.
The failure of the disciples in this story is a failure of the imagination as they awkwardly respond to Jesus’s interaction to this woman and worry about its appropriateness. Perhaps Jesus didn’t know that there was supposed to be a glass ceiling when it comes to divine revelations and commission to do ministry in the name of Jesus by addressing males in the public square? Not only are they automatically status quo here, but also too cowardly to own their bias. That can happen.
The Samaritan woman doesn’t have time to stay and deal with their sexist notions; she has too much preaching to do to those in need of some good news. She is so effective in her work that people catch the vision and join it and then do their part to spread the vision. The Samaritan woman connected with others to grow the movement that cares about the healing and integration of the whole world.
The Samaritan woman was authentically courageous and courageously authentic. This Nasty Woman persisted, and because she did, her own life, the life of her community and the life of the whole world was affected in life-giving ways, even to this present day.