Folk who are familiar with my blog will know that the Samaritan woman from John 4 is one of my favourite characters, and so I make no apologies for re-visiting her story today. She holds interest for me as a woman because although I have not experienced the overt ostracisms' that I believe she would have faced I am aware that like me many women struggle with self esteem, and that even small things can render us outsiders.
The Church has been responsible for some of this shunning, and even today many churches have set ideas on how women should behave and what they can/ cannot do. Like many other women who are in or training for ordained ministry I have been told that I should not be putting myself forward in this way, that it is presumptuous of me to do so, and like many women I have found that many of my fiercest critics are other women. I don't truly understand this attitude, and although my story is a very different story to the story of the Samaritan woman, hers is a tale that I draw encouragement and strength from. And so I offer this narrative retelling today:
My heart was heavy as I dragged myself out into the mid-day heat, I needed water and so I had to go to the well. The heat of the sun scorching though it was was kinder to my body than the tongue lashing I would receive in the cooler part of the day was to my soul.
But I was weary, weary and souls sick. I needed companionship, but I was shunned by my sisters, what made it harder to bear was that this was through no fault of my own. They knew my first two husbands, those two cruel men who divorced me without reason. They had cited burning the dinner and loosing a sandal, but neither of those accusations was true; their real problem had been my failure to conceive, and they being impatient men had divorced me before a year of married life was up!
I was only eighteen twice divorced when I met Josiah, the love of my life; he ignored the rumours and the gossip and married me anyway. We were happy, for four blissful years we were happy. I remember singing as I prepared his meals, smiling as I baked the bread and swept the floors. In those days I walked with my sisters to the well, I was one of them, and when my belly began to grow round and full with our first child they clucked over me like a group of mother hens.
Those days are long gone and so is Josiah; he was a builder by trade, and I will never forget the terrible day when the news came, Josiah had fallen from a roof, struck his head on a rock, and he was dead. The grief overwhelmed me so much that I hardly noticed the labour pains to begin with. Shock had caused a premature labour, and my beautiful daughter lived only a few hours. The women called her Miryam, which means sea of bitterness; I did not have the heart or the strength to insist upon another name.
It was then that the rumours began in earnest, I must be cursed they said. Two more failed marriages followed in quick succession, Jeremiah beat me before he threw me out and Philip soon decided that the rumours were not worth the trouble, and divorced me for forgetting to salt the soup. It should not have been so easy for them to abandon me, but by now even the authorities did not question the web of lies that surrounded me.
So here I am, a concubine, not married, living in the home of Alexis, a wealthy Greek trader, he passes this way twice each year, and when he does I am here. His name means protector and helper. He has provided me with shelter, but he cannot protect me from the dagger like glances or the lashing tongues, and so I keep to myself to myself as much as I can.
That is why I was out in the mid-day heat, making my solitary journey to the well, and that is why I was shocked and surprised to find someone there. I was more shocked when he spoke to me! He asked me for a cup of water, a simple request, and yet in making it he threw aside conventions and boundaries that would have kept us apart.
My conversation with Jesus was like no other conversation, he spoke in riddles, and yet he was direct and clear, he spoke of living water, of spirit and of life. He knew me inside and out, and he made no comment, treating me as if I was normal, and although I knew that he was a holy man for there was an air of godliness about him, it didn't seem to bother him that I was a woman alone.
His words were like a refreshing stream in the mid-day heat, and we both forgot about the well and the need to drink physical water, there was something much more important in the air;
"The time is coming—it has, in fact, come," he said "when what you're called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter.
"It's who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That's the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration."
Worship from within, now that was new, and it was real! He'd asked me about my husband, and then set me free by commending me for my truthfulness! I no longer needed to be bound by how others thought of me, this man who claimed to be the Messiah had accepted me! When his followers returned and cast their disapproving gazes over me I was not concerned, instead I was filled with a desire to tell my neighbours, to spread the amazing news, to invite them to come and see, to decide for themselves whether this man could be who he said he was.
To my amazement they came, there must have been something different about me or they would have simply dismissed me. Jesus and his disciples stayed with us for two more days, the whole village turned out to hear him, this man, this Jew, who did not shun us and whose words were words of life.
I am very pleased to have discovered that the Samaritan Woman has her own feast day; she is celebrated as ST Photini, and tradition has given her a name and redeemed her reputation, although the Orthodox Tradition sticks with the traditional story of the woman as a sinner and adulterer I am really glad that she is remembered as one who was transformed by the love of God. At the end of the day we are all sinners, and transformation is what we all need isn't it?