Messages of Hope

Called to Recognise

Published / by Jana

The story of Jesus speaking to a Samaritan woman (John 4:5-42) is the perfect story for the work of reconciliation and renewal.

But you wouldn’t know that from some commentaries and sermons.

The traditional way of reading this text is as a morality tale. Jesus, our exemplar, acts with compassionate acceptance towards a “wayward” woman, who, “poor thing” is a foreigner to boot. Takeaway? Pity, a soft form of judgment but a form of judgment nonetheless, is our calling as followers of Jesus. Second takeaway? Religion is society’s sex police. Third takeaway? Faith in practice is solely a charity-based enterprise. Don’t challenge “the man”: let’s just keep our heads down and keep patting those poor lost girls on the knee. This is all there is to it, following Jesus.

What’s the alternative to this reading of the story?

Here’s a guide from commentator John Petty blogging at progressive involvement

“The woman tells Jesus, “I do not have a husband.” Jesus seems impressed with this statement. He tells her that she has spoken well–kalos eipes. He goes on to note that she has had “five men and the one you have now is not your man.” Why the compliment? Why did Jesus say the woman had spoken well when she said she did not have a husband?
The “husbands” are symbolic. After their conquest of the region in 722 BCE, the Assyrians took about 30,000 native Israelites out of the region and imported people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim (2 Kings 17:24) into Samaria. As people are wont to do, they intermarried with each other and with the native, Israelite, population.
These peoples are the woman’s “five husbands.” The one she is currently with, who is “not her husband,” is Rome. (Rome did not allow intermarriage.)
Jesus redefines the woman and Samaria. She is not an outcast, half-breed, heretic–she is a truthteller! The Samaritan woman acknowledges and ratifies Jesus’ interpretation of her national history. “Lord, I see that you are a prophet.””

What would that be like, to be recognised not vilified? To be seen as a truthteller (not a troublemaker) on behalf of your people who have suffered under the systemic policies of displacement and assimilation of a colonising power?

It’s a pity there isn’t anyone alive today who could tell us how that feels. You know, because this is ancient history….or….

“Recognition of the first peoples in the Constitution sends a message that you are valued, you are important, that we want to respect you, and we want to deal with the things that have caused us division and discord in the past. ”
That’s a quote from PATRICK DODSON, an Indigenous Leader involved in the Recognise Campaign

It takes a certain way of seeing to recognise, as we are called to in the Recognise movement; as we are called to in this story of Jesus the Jew and the Samaritan woman at the well.

Recognition is seeing with the inner eye.
Not stopping at the surface of things.

Stopping on the surface is what allows governments to think their duty of care begins and ends with welfare services, no matter how dehumanising the delivery of those services might be.

Recognition is seeing with the inner eye.
Not stopping at the duality of things.

Stopping at the duality of things had a perfect symbol to fit with this story in the segregated South of the US back in the day – separate drinking fountains for blacks and whites. That’s definitely dead water, not living water.

Recognition is seeing with the inner eye.
Not stopping at the physicality of our existence.

Recognition in the constitution is about the material security of the right to participation in our democratic system on equal footing with other citizens…but it is about so much more than that. As Richard Dodson said, “Recognition of the first peoples in the Constitution sends a message that you are valued, you are important, that we want to respect you….”

This story for today is a morality tale, there’s just a different moral to the story than the traditional reading assumes. The moral of this story from this reading is that we are morally obliged to recognise:
to recognise ourselves in the other
to recognise unity amongst human beings more essential than differences
to recognise that our fates are bound up all together…

to recognise that we do indeed have a destiny together

and to recognise the parts we each and we all together must play in making our shared destiny one of reconciliation and renewal of the whole creation.

** Listen to the full version of this witness here.

posted 24 Mar 2014 by Jana