Saturday, September 26, 2009

well, well, well

What I'm about to write is not a startling new insight in the world of biblical studies. Scholars have long noticed it. But I'm not sure the average Bible reader appreciates how radical and suggestive Jesus is being in John 4. We call the story, "The Woman at the Well", but does it jog our memory? This is not the first biblical story where a man meets a woman at a well. It's not the second either. And both Jesus and John leave us plenty of clues to alert us to the fact that they have these earlier episodes in mind.

Genesis 24 - A man (Abraham's servant) on a long journey outside the promised land stops to rest at a well. A woman (Rebekah) comes to draw water. He asks her for a drink. Her offer is the grounds for a marriage proposal to his master (Isaac).

Exodus 2 - A man (Moses) on a long journey far from home sits down by a well. He helps some girls by watering their flocks. His kindness spawns a marriage proposal (Zipporah).

John 4 - Jesus, tired from a long journey, sits down by a well. A woman comes and he asks for a drink. She is shocked. (And we should be, too!) He offers her living water. Is this a marriage proposal? She may suspect it, because she denies having a husband.

Craig Keener (whose commentary is quite good once you make it past the 400-page introduction!) notes the possibility that we are to see a parallel here: “The Son had pursued this woman for the Father, perhaps as Abraham’s servant pursued Rebekah for his master”, implying that she is His bride (619). The story has already included direct references to Jacob, one of the patriarchs. It is his well where the incident takes place. Keener suggests, "The allusion to the finding of matriarchs for Israel may invite the reader to contemplate the ultimate identity of this Samaritan woman whom God is seeking, not on the basis of her past but on the basis of God’s calling: she will become foundational to a new community of faith and obedience.” (586)

This should shock us as readers. The Samaritan woman is a poor parallel to virgin Rebekah. She's been through 5 marriages already and is trying out a 6th. But Jesus offers her living water. And in doing so He makes a loud statement to His disciples that His kingdom will be built by sinners and outcasts -- those who have come to grips with their desperate need for His life-giving presence, not by the religious elite -- those who think they have it all. Well, well, well ...

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