Sunday, February 23, 2014

Love On John's Terms (part 9)

What follows from Jesus’ declaration of His status as Messiah?  The woman returns to her town, saying “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did.  Surely He can’t be the Messiah, can He?” (John 4:29).  In response to this, the author reports that “they left the town and began coming to Him” (4:30).  Effectively then, this woman becomes the first evangelist.  One should not underestimate how odd it would have been for John’s hearers to learn that “many Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of the report of the woman who testified” (4:39a), especially if considering that, in that time, a woman’s testimony was considered to be worthless. 

Additionally, one also cannot underestimate how significant it is that a group of Samaritans, at the instigation of a woman with what would have been a rather disreputable standing in the community (on top of the fact that she would have been considered to be a lowly woman, who would obviously have been paired with a man lacking honor standing in the community as well, as a man with any honor standing whatsoever would not have taken such a woman as his wife, thus magnifying this woman’s place near the bottom of the social spectrum) are apparently the first to believe in Jesus as Messiah en masse. 

This bit of information tells the audience something about the Johannine community, and does so on multiple levels.  On one level, it points to the early sensitivity towards the issue of Gentile inclusion in the church (the covenant people), effectively answering those that may have wanted to reserve the message of the Gospel to Jews alone.  On another level, the massive reversal on display through the story of this woman indicates that there may have been those who believed that women were not to have a prominent role within the church.  This serves to silence those that gave voice to such unwarranted opinions.  On a third level, it informs an observer that women were most likely already in prominent roles---including non-Jewish women, with the story serving to underscore the legitimacy of their honored status withing Jesus communities---a novelty introduced into the world through the personal and ongoing work of the Christ. 

Now, one may think that this may be reading too much into a single instance, but this fits quite well with what is to be found at the end of this Gospel, when Mary Magdalene is said to have gone to Jesus’ tomb.  She “saw that the stone had been moved away from the entrance” (20:1b), and “went running to Simon Peter and the other disciple whom Jesus loved” (20:2a), who was the un-named (but not anonymous) author of this Gospel, with a report that Jesus’ body was not in the tomb.  With this, a woman becomes the first witness to an empty tomb---effectively beginning the life of the church that has continued to proclaim an empty tomb since that moment.  Mary joins the Samaritan woman as representatives of what would be said of those who believed in Jesus as Lord of all (the Gospel), demonstrating the world being turned upside down.   

Continuing at the tomb then, after Peter and the other disciple left, “Mary stood outside the tomb weeping” (20:11a).  She went inside the tomb, is reported to have had a conversation with “two angels in white sitting where Jesus’ body had been lying” (20:12b) (which is something of an echo of Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman), and then is said to “have turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus” (20:14b).  So it is a woman who becomes the very first person to see the resurrected Jesus.  This parallels the fact that, according to this same Gospel’s witness, that a woman (and a despised Samaritan woman at that) was the first person to hear an explicit declaration from Jesus that He was, in fact, the Messiah, while subsequently becoming the first successful evangelist. 

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