Stories in the Bible that feature women do show up now and then, not as often as many of us would like, and when they do show up, the women aren’t seen in as good a light as often as many of us would like. This week we get one of those stories: the Samaritan woman at the well with Jesus.
I’ve been at a conference these past couple of days and the guiding story for our gathering has also been this story. It’s one I know well. I’ve studied it, written papers on it, created a retreat around it, and I’ve preached on it more than once. In some ways I feel as though I know it inside and out.
The first day of the conference we began with worship, fittingly enough since it was a church people conference. It was time to hear the scripture lesson. I settled back, waiting for someone to open a Bible, turn the page to John 4, and begin.
Instead, six women took the stage. Some I knew, some I knew of. They were different ages, different sizes and shapes, different colors; they are all powerful and faithful. And they started to tell the story of another woman, a different woman, a woman who was also powerful and faithful.
It’s hard to describe exactly what went through my head. It may have been something late like, “Oh my God – these women are going to tell the woman’s story.” It may have been, “At last, women are going to tell this woman’s story.” I’m really not sure what went through my mind because my heart was pierced as these six women were telling the testimony of one of their sisters.
I’ve never, ever, ever heard this story told in this way. It was riveting. They did not speak in one voice – you could tell as they told their part of the story that they had different takes on it. But through these women’s voices the story was reclaimed from thousands of years of interpretation by men who have seen this woman as a hussy, a prostitute or a slut, a woman who couldn’t keep a man satisfied or well fed, a woman who talked too much, a woman who had been shamed by her entire village. Over the millennia she has been twisted into one more fallen woman who must be saved by a man.
But last Monday, this woman was reclaimed by her sisters (and by the two men and one woman who preached this text.) In their posture and their voice, in their inflection and pauses, they came around this woman and gathered with her at the well.
I so wish my daughter had been there to see it, to hear it, to witness it. I wish she had seen that group of women do what women have done between the lines of scripture for so many years: claim their own space in the sacred story.
Since originally posting this, the link to the video of the service has been posted. If you’re interested, click on this link; go to Opening Worship. The scripture begins around 19:15.