1. Takes Questions and Arguments Seriously
“It is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man… A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronised; who never made arch jokes about them… who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them… had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unself-conscious. There is no act, no sermon, no parable in the whole Gospel that borrows its pungency from female perversity; nobody could possibly guess from the words and deeds of Jesus that there was anything “funny” about woman’s nature.” – Dorothy Sayers.
The above quote from Dorothy Sayers seems very relevant in Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman, recorded in John 4:5-42). The Rabbis during Jesus’ time did not teach women as they thought it was a waste of time and that women don’t understand deep philosophy and theology. That the Samaritan woman had five husbands and the one whom she was with was not her husband (John 4:18) would make her a threat to their “reputation” and “dignity” to even talk to her! But Jesus had no need for such a fake and hypocritical “reputation”. He engages her in what may be one of the most profound and deep conversations and answers an age-old problem of religious strife, hatred, hypocrisy, and division!
1.1. Matter of Priorities in Values
For all the hatred, envy, jealousy, pettiness, hypocrisy, pride, ego, deception, pride, exploitation, manipulation etc that that religious people are capable of, we can be very prudish and judgmental on such matters as the Samaritan woman’s multiple divorces. We do not know if the divorces were her fault at all or not. Those were times when men could divorce their wives as per their whims and fancies. That the women could not financially support themselves made matters worse for them and helpless. For all we know, she might be an innocent party and a victim in all those divorces. In any case, for Jesus, while he did point out her life situation, it was her honesty, integrity, humility, and thirst for truth that mattered the most for Jesus. Jews and Samaritans hated each other, but she rose above such boundaries, in humility and in search of truth. She’s better than most of the so-called religious people with church memberships, or even much of church leadership!
2. Why the Religious Divide
Humanity has sought to connect with the Divine through religion. If everyone wants to connect with the Divine why are there so many religions? Why so much division and hatred? Different religions have different religious practices and the believers get worried about the validity of their practices when they come in contact with different or even contradictory religious practices and beliefs. That is natural and good – makes for a good discussion on matters of truth and to collectively move forward in matters of truth. However, there are always sinister elements who want to exploit the situation to cause religious strife, for political power, domination, to deceive/manipulate people to control them, etc. There are countless stories of “pastors” deceiving people by taking their money or sexual exploitation, getting their things done, etc (there is the playing of the religious card, and it often makes good business sense!). And there are countless wars, bloodshed, genocides, riots, discrimination, etc in the name of religion. Religious hypocrites mislead people and use whatever institutional power they have, for their narcissistic supply, to bully people and enrich themselves. The sinister elements love the institution of religion and use their hypocrisy and they blow their own trumpet to rise in the ranks to gain power/control over people, properties, etc. If we lose our way of what religion ought to be, it can cause a lot of damage.
3. Rising Above Religious Divide
The Jews and the Samaritans hated each other. She was a Samaritan and Jesus was a Jew. Yet, they not only had a civil conversation but a very deep and profound conversation, rising above the religious debate. Once she recognized that Jesus was a prophet, she asked the age-old question pertaining to differences in religions: “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” (John 4:19). Jesus started his response by saying what no one would have expected, and in many ways, a shocking response: “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father” (John 4:21). Jesus did add that Jews “know what we worship” and the Samaritans “worship what you do not know” and that the “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22), but Jesus was quick to add one of the most profound statements: “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4: 23-24)
3.1. Answer to the Religious Divide, Hypocrisy and Strife
What Jesus said in John 4:23-24 is the answer to the religious divide and the abuse of religion. Jesus said that true worshipers worship in spirit and truth. Ultimately it is not about location or place of worship or religious labels or external manner of worship. It is about love for truth, honesty, integrity, and humility. It has to be genuine from the heart, as opposed to a hypocritical display as a show for others. God is where you are, where your spirit is. Wherever you are humble, honest, truthful, and love Him, you can worship, because God is there. God is not confined to locations or ritualistic practices. Jesus seems to be telling us not to worry so much about the place or manner of worship or the religious labels, but to focus on getting our hearts right. Just come to God genuinely and honestly with whole heart. That then is the answer to the religious divide, hypocrisy, and divide that we see so much.
3.2. Exuberant Reception of Truth
It is because of the Samaritan woman’s genuine thirst for truth and humility, that she was able to rise above the ethnic/racial/religious divide and quickly recognize that Jesus was the messiah. She was receptive to truth and was exuberant at knowing the truth! John 4:28-29 says: “The woman then left her waterpot, went her way into the city, and said to the men, “Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?”. Many came to know Jesus because of her (John 4:39-42). They said to the woman: “Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.” (John 4:42).
3.2. Constant Battle Against Religious Hypocrites
Though Jesus did say that the Jews worship what they do know (John 4:22), the Jews (or Christians for that matter) are as susceptible to a wrong manner of worship, and to all manners of misuse/abuse of religion as anyone else (if not worse) – Jesus fought against such misuse of religion all his life – and they tortured and killed him for that. We should not let sinister elements exploit religion to control/manipulate people. It is a constant uphill battle, which Jesus showed how to fight non-violently and sacrificially but without compromise. Ultimately we have to remember that faith is all about honesty, integrity, truth, humility, and setting our hearts right before God – God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth (John 4:24).