While fleeing the religiously judgmental eyes of the Pharisees, Jesus decides to take a shortcut through Samaria to reach Galilee, an uncommon practice for Jews who avoided Samaritans. In the text, water serves as a catalyst for a theological/historical conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. The woman displays her intellectual competence while experiencing a spiritual awakening. Jesus then moves the conversation from salvation in a spiritual sense to salvation in a socio-political sense. Now that she understands the implications of the “living water,” Jesus challenges the woman to tell her husband about her experience at the well.
Why would Jesus move from discussing the troubled history of Jewish/Samaritan relations that color their understandings of worship to a discussion about marriage? This is because Jesus is not referring to a literal marriage between two people. He’s not painting her as a “loose woman,” as we often misinterpret. Jesus is referring to a political marriage between the Samaritans and her “lords.” These husbands, lords, colonizers included Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Judea and currently Rome. The conversation challenges the Samaritan woman to do as Jesus and his disciples—preach liberation from political concubinage. Samaria and Judea must no longer bow and submit to Rome and the Emperor as god but must worship the God of heaven as Creator and Sovereign.
Jesus and the Samaritan woman teach us that during this Lenten season, we must give up more than fried foods, shopping, social media, and television. To create a more meaningful change in our church and society, we must give up our allegiance to oppressive structures that keep us in bondage. I am reminded of Nat Turner’s story most recently told in the film The Birth of a Nation. For Turner, worship is a revolutionary act that requires direct resistance against the power structure that prohibits us from fully connecting to the Divine. Because when we all connect to the Divine in spirit and truth regardless of gender, race, nationality, gender, and age, a renewed sense of self and community are established and the potential to achieve justice and liberation is realized.
Creator, I pray that we allow the living water to cleanse us on this Lenten journey. Cleanse us of the human-created barriers that prohibit us from fully connecting to you. Cleanse us of the chains that keep us in bondage. Cleanse us of the things—both tangible and ideological—that silence our voices and buy our allegiance. And, empower us to tell the stories of our encounters with the living water in spaces that deny many the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Rev. Amber Lowe-Woodfork is the pastor of St. James CME Church in Perry, Georgia.