Our Identity in John’s Gospel Part IV: Unmasking the Women at the Well, Among Other Things

By the time we get to chapter four we’ve seen Jesus shatter the ego of the Temple establishment in chapter two and a member of the Jewish ruling council in chapter three. In chapter four Jesus goes after someone that seems the antithesis of power and prestige, a Samaritan woman. He confronts both the attitudes toward her, and her own crisis of Identity.
By talking to this women Jesus was assaulting the ego of his own followers. Both women and Samaritans were seen as at the bottom of the social ladder in Jewish eyes. The fact that Jesus speaks to the women in chapter four both astonishes her (verse 9) and his disciples (verse 27). It sends a clear message to his disciples that the light extends beyond the boundaries gender and race. If they are to walk in the light they must be willing to go beyond what makes them comfortable.
Jesus’ conversation with the women is laced with an understanding of the role of geography and morality in determining identity. In Jesus’ time Jewish-Samaritan relationships centered on geography more than anything else. The Samaritans viewed Jews as Israelites corrupted by Babylon, and the Jews saw the Samaritans as half-breeds. This tension came to a head over the question of worship. Samaritans worshiped at Mount Gerizim, while Jews worshiped at Jerusalem. The woman tries to turn the question toward pedigree and geography right off the bat by attempting to provoke Jesus into responding to the origins of her well (verse 12). Jesus however side steps the issue all together and shatters the women’s own ego first by revealing the darkness in her own life (verse 18). The women, again tries to bring geography into the equation, this time by bringing up the debate over which temple to worship at. Jesus again goes to the issue of identity. One cannot find identity in place they worship in, but state they worship in. True worship is in spirit and truth. Worship in spirit identifies us with God and living in the truth brings us into the light (John 3:21).
Jesus’ call is beyond a place or way of life. The well is not as important as the water it contains.
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