This is the fifth year that the pastors of SFX have given their support to Women’s Voice to mark and celebrate International Women’s Day in SFX. Over the years, we have attempted to share with you the lived experiences of women, many of whom in still many parts of the world do not enjoy the kinds of freedom, which have been won at much cost elsewhere, and here, in Malaysia. There have been times when we have been encouraged and times discouraged by the feedback received, of our attempts to bring greater awareness of the injustice and violence that are experienced by many women, and children on the margins of society. Today’s gospel story is one such encouragement for us to continue our efforts to bring about a better world where people can relate to each other in harmony, respect, and peace.
The gospel relates an encounter of a woman with Jesus, who is both liberating and inspiring to women and others marginalized by social, political and religious structures and traditions.
You have heard and read this text, many times I am sure. What was your reaction to it? What has been your reflection on the story?
The common interpretation of the text focuses our attention on the moral issue of 5 husbands and Jesus catching her in a sinful and promiscuous life. But is that what this story is about?
Biblical scholars have now thrown light on the reference to the five husbands.
Historically, the Samaritans worshipped five gods or “baals”. The understanding was that the word ‘baal’ had several meanings. It described god, lord, king, or husband. In 2 Kings 17:13-34, you will find a description of Samaria’s worship of the false gods of the tribes who had invaded and enslaved the people of Samaria. The worship of those gods so tainted their worship of Yahweh, that they were no longer faithful to the Mosaic covenant.
We know also that the Jews did not associate with Samaritans. Traditionally, Jewish men did not speak to the women of their own families in public, what more to women outside their community! The Samaritan woman’s race and gender disqualified her, but here was Jesus speaking to her and requesting a drink from her jar. The disciples were themselves taken aback by this scandalous action of Jesus.
Samaria then was a strip of land separating Judea from Galilee. Because of the hostilities between the Jews and the Samaritans, most Jews would avoid Samaria and take an alternative route. Yet Jesus deliberately chose to pass through Samaria. It would seem that he had a mission to fulfill.
Theologians and scholars have suggested that the mission was to woo Samaria back to full covenant fidelity. The reference to the 5 husbands was in fact a reference to the covenant infidelity of the Samaritans who had accepted the worship of the false gods of their conquerors.
The request for a drink established the basis of equality, and indicated to the astonished woman that Jesus gave her the respect, which was not traditionally accorded to the Samaritans and to women. For this woman, who was marginalized and oppressed by systems and traditions, the moment was liberating.
She listened, she questioned, debated and dialogued with Jesus with such theological depth and intensity that it was clear that she was a partner in the dialogue and a partner in his mission.
The entire dialogue is rife with symbolic language. Jesus, the new Bridegroom was offering hope of the reconciliation and restoration of Samaria to full covenant fidelity in the new Israel.
This encounter with Jesus made a radical change in the woman’s life, and through her, the life of the Samaritan community. Freed from enslavement, and having experienced the revelation and insights of the dialogue, the woman was then empowered to bear witness, and preach the good news.
We read that she left her jar and ran to the city to tell her people about her experience and to give them the hope of reconciliation. This significant detail of leaving her jar is similar to that of the first fishermen disciples leaving their boats. It symbolized a readiness for discipleship.
Through her action, many welcomed the good news, and were transformed to adopt the new way of life, of equality and communion as prescribed by Jesus.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day, and in this season of Lent prepare ourselves for Easter, may we be open to the invitation of Jesus to the covenant fidelity of worship of God in spirit and truth. Like the Samaritan woman and the people of Samaria, Jesus challenges us all…women and men, to identify the false gods that we worship. We must realize that we structure our world and our lives by those false gods. When our perspective and ideology and the pursuit of wealth and status, discriminate and abuse the rights of others, we are not being faithful to the inclusive way of living and worshipping God.
Jesus broke many barriers that day in Samaria to offer the Living Water.
He’s asking us today, as He did the Samaritans, for radical change in our attitudes and actions towards women and others who have been marginalized. It calls for courage to recognize those false gods in our lives and to make a change.
Today Jesus is offering us that Living Water. Come, drink from that well spring of Life
Women's Voice is a small group of Catholic women based in Kuala Lumpur. They are women moved by Jesus' image of women liberated from oppressive patriarchal structures that diminish and discriminate against them and dismiss them as unworthy to stand before God. Members of Women's Voice who participated in the first EWA Conference were Theresa Lim Chin Chin, Yong Ting Jin, Judith Kho, and Grace Chung.