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Set free to set others free

Illustration of Jesus and the Samaritan woman. (Credit: Chicago Crusader)

In the Gospel of John the fourth chapter, there is a familiar episode concerning a woman we have come to know as the Samaritan woman. If you have been in church longer than five minutes you have heard the story of the Samaritan woman.

I want to re-visit the story to tease out some insights we don’t usually hear when this text is preached, and I want to drop bread crumbs for someone to pick up.

In the story, Jesus is traveling through Samaria on his way to Galilee. Jesus stops at a well in the Samaritan village of Sychar to rest from his journey. His disciples continue into town to purchase food.

While Jesus is at the well the Samaritan woman approaches the well; we are told that it was about noon.

First insight. We have heard many preachers and Sunday school teachers who have made a big deal out of her arriving at noon.

However, biblical scholar and womanist theologian Mitzi J. Smith, in her book “Womanist Sass and Talk Back,” discusses the importance of water in the agrarian society of the first century. She also points out that for this woman to come to the well at noon was understandable because women of that time would make many trips to the wells for water.

This could have been her fifth or tenth time coming to the well, or it could have been her first trip of many to the well. Water was essential and had many uses that one trip could not satisfy.

We know that Jesus initiated conversation by asking her for a drink.

From there the discussion goes from the two of them talking about water, to being introduced to living water, to Jesus saying to her, “call your husband.”

Many preachers and Sunday school teachers have made a big deal of the fact that she had five husbands and the man she was with was not her husband.

First of all, in Jesus responding to her honesty about her domestic situation, Jesus never condemned her for her domestic situation because women did not have an identity in those days without a man. Women did not have agency over their lives without having a man’s name.

Finally, it was up to the man to decide to marry her or not.

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“True to Our Native Land”

Yet, Black theologian Allen Callahan in the New Testament commentary “True to Our Native Land,” adds some invaluable insight based on the language. Dr. Callahan points out that when Jesus says to her, “call your husband,” in the Aramaic language that Jesus was speaking it translated the word “husband” to “lord,” “ruler,” and/or “regime.”

But most importantly Jesus was saying by the language that “you have had six regimes ruling over you and your people.”

Those regimes would have been the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and Jews, and the sixth one was Rome.

That’s why their conversation took a sharp turn when she really opened up about what was vexing her soul and that was the theological racism the Jews were using to oppress the Samaritans concerning their way of worshiping God.

That’s why she told Jesus, “You Jews say we are supposed to worship in Jerusalem and our worshipping God here on this mountain is wrong.”

The disdain her people were receiving from the Jews, and the past military assaults the Jews under John Hyrcanus had committed against the Samaritans, and their present situation of oppression under the Romans, together with the idea they were not worshiping properly (which insinuated that she and her people were enemies of God), caused her soul injury and made life dangerous and depressing for her.

Jesus spoke life to her when he pointed out that it is neither a location nor a building that identifies true worship but it is discerned in those who worship God “in spirit and truth.”

Jesus said those are the ones God seeks.

Jesus also revealed to her that he was the Messiah/Christ and because of a conversation with Christ she was set free from the mental and spiritual anguish that bound her.

The text says that after this conversation with the Christ, she dropped her water jar, and preached a sermon of exhortation saying, “Come see a man…” And the text says further that because of her testimony in sermon, the majority of the Samaritans not only came to see Jesus but believed in Jesus.

In Jesus’ words “salvation is from the Jews,” actually means, according to Dr. Callahan, that she needed to be freed from the negative images and stereotypes of the Jewish aristocracy so she could exercise all that God had placed in her.

I hope and pray this brief critical explanation frees somebody else from the misinterpretations that bind you, especially some Black woman who has been confronted with the negatives of sexism and toxic masculinity and how they have contributed to you suppressing dreams, gifts and goals that stir your soul and spirit.

Let this Samaritan woman’s conversation with the Christ set you free to then like her, set others free!

Knowing The Truth - Part I
Rev. John E. Jackson
Senior Pastor at | + posts

Rev. Dr. John E. Jackson, Sr. is the Senior Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ-Gary, 1276 W. 20th Ave. in Gary. “We are not just another church but we are a culturally conscious, Christ-centered church, committed to the community; we are unashamedly Black and unapologetically Christian.”

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