Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Category: Bible’s Major Players (page 2 of 3)

Bible’s Major Players: The Samaritan Woman

Slide2The Bible is filled with some major players. The Samaritan woman at the well is one from the New Testament.

When Megan and I traveled to Austin, Texas, we made the decision NOT to rent a car. We decided that we would walk the streets of Austin as much as possible to experience the culture and the city. And to save money. On more than one occasion, we walked miles to get from one end of the city to another to get the tacos we were told we had to get; to go into the store Uncommon Objects; to museums.

Even though it was September, it was hot in Austin! After walking for miles, we had to stop and get some water. We were thirsty. And if you have ever walked or worked out in the heat for a long period of time, you know that feeling of needed ice, cold, water.

well_10562cI imagine that is what Jesus felt in John 4 when he comes to Jacob’s Well. He had been waiting for miles and he needed some cool, refreshing, water. So he stops at this well. In Samaria.

We should for a moment mention that Jews and Samaritans were like oil and water. They did not get along, and that is putting it mildly. Jesus was traveling from Judea to Galilee. The straight way to get there is through Samaria. Most Jews, however, would take the long way and go around Samaria to avoid interacting with Samaritans. But, Jesus was not most Jews.

Why did Jesus cross through Samaria? To get to the other side.

But also perhaps because the Son of God knew that there was a woman who needed to hear that she, too, is offered the gift of grace.

John’s gospel says that Jesus arrived at the well at noon. It may seem like a minor detail, but its a significant fact. Noon is the hottest part of the day. While Jesus is sitting there, a Samaritan woman, who is never identified by name in John’s gospel, came to draw water from the well. At noon. The hottest part of the day.

Most women went to the well either early in the morning or later in the evening. This was so they could get the water they need for the day. It was cooler, making it easier to carry the jars of water from the well back into the village. And, the women mostly went to the well in groups.

So for this Samaritan woman to be coming to the well in the middle of the day alone should send up a red flag for us. There is something different about this woman. Not to mention, this guy named Jesus. Tradition says that a man should not speak to a woman in public who is not a relative. Tradition is also pretty clear that a Jewish man should not be speaking to a Samaritan woman.

As far as tradition goes, this nameless woman now has two strikes against her. Despite this fact, Jesus speaks to her. He asks her for a drink. And during the course of the conversation, the third strike is revealed.

Jesus: Go, call your husband and come back.

Woman: I have no husband.

Jesus: You are right. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.

SamaritanWomanOrigOh snap! Jesus knows! Here is a woman who has been married multiple times and is now living with a man whom she is not married too. Without a husband, the Samaritan woman was bound for a life of poverty or worse. She had no basic rights without a husband. Which means, while courting this possible sixth husband, she had no property, no house, no anything.

The fact that she was an unmarried woman living with a man branded her with a scarlet A. She was an outcast, marginalized by her society. We wondered earlier why she would come to the well in the middle of the day? Most likely to avoid the stares and the comments by the other women at the well. She most likely knew what other people thought of her, and it most likely made her feel not too great about herself.

And here is this Rabbi sitting by the well, engaging in a conversation with her about water, faith, and religion. She suddenly felt human again. In the midst of the conversation, she acknowledges that she knows about the Messiah. And then, Jesus relieves that he is whom she speaks of.

Yep, that’s right, early in John’s gospel Jesus relieves himself as the Messiah to a Samaritan woman who is living with a man she is not married to. Jesus relieved himself to an outcast. To a person whom society had deemed a nobody. Maybe that’s why John doesn’t tell us her name, to reinforce her place in society.

Then, leaving the water jar the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” (John 4:28-29)

Come and see, she says, as she runs from the well leaving her water jar behind to tell the others in the village. The people want to hear more from Jesus, and he spends two days with them. In old-school Methodism we called this a Camp Meeting. This woman who was an outcast became an evangelist to the Gospel. She became a teacher, a preacher, a sharer of the Word.

And I imagine that once she started, she couldn’t stop talking about Jesus.

How has Jesus relieved himself as the Messiah to you? How do you talk about Jesus to others?

Bible’s Major Players: Lot & His Wife

Slide2The Bible is filled with some major players. Lot and his wife are two from the Old Testament.

In the Genesis story, Lot is Abraham’s nephew. For the longest time the two men shared property. Abraham, of course, was the elder and had the last say on everything. One day, “Lot looked up and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered, like the garden of the Lord” (Genesis 13:10). The land looked greener than where he was. Lot asked his uncle for the greener land, and Abraham granted it.

Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord. (Genesis 13:12-13).

It’s a case of country mouse going to the city. A lot has been said about verse 13, and I think it important to note that the text says that the men were wicked and sinned against God. Be weary of those who communicate that this text says more than that. Does God destroy Sodom? Yes. Why? Because “the men . . were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord” (Genesis 13:13).

mob mentalityGod destroys the city only after Uncle Abraham puts up a good round of bargaining. If there are 10 righteous in the city, God will save the city. God sends angels, messengers, to find the 10 righteous. Lot, practicing the ancient tradition of hospitality, invited the strangers into his home. Shortly after, the Bible reports that all the men in the city came demanding Lot to give up the two strangers so they may have their way with them.

A couple of things worth pondering. Lot and his family are non-Sodomites. They are strangers in a foreign land. Though they may have risen to a prosper lifestyle, they were still not from Sodom. So, when strangers come into town and visit Lot’s home first, it was sure to raise some questions.

Second, the crowd chose rape over hospitality. Hospitality was so serious, it was considered a sin against God. Rape is a horrid act of dominating power. Rape is a sin against God. What is just as horrifying is that Lot offers his two, virgin daughters to the crowd. If they were planning to rape the two strangers, you can put money down that will rape Lot’s daughters. Why would he do that? Is hospitality that serious?

The two angels send out a blinding light that actually blinds all the men in the crowd. The angels then tell the family to get out of town before the city is destroyed. But, Lot hesitates. Maybe he wanted to pack a bag of a few belongings. Was Lot so rooted in a lifestyle of prosperity in the big city, that he forgot his humble rural upbringing? This is what the angels do:

. . . the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them. (Genesis 19:16)

God was merciful to them. God showed them grace. Go figure. Once the angels got the family out of the city, they them to run! Do not pass Go! Do not collect $200! Do not look back! And these weren’t friendly suggestions, these were commands. Do. Not. Look. Back.

Lot's WifeAnd of course, someone looks back. Surprisingly it is Lot’s wife, who has been silent this whole episode. Why does she look back? She is grieving the life of luxurery she left behind? She is curious to see what is happening to the city? Even though they were told not to look back, she does, and she is instantly turned into a pillar of salt.

Looking back on where we have been can be helpful so that we do not make the same mistakes twice. Or when we reflect on the journey that the Holy One has brought us through. But looking back longingly, especially when God tells us not too, can be dangerous. I wonder if Lot’s wife looked back too soon. If she had waited until they reached a new, safer city and a month or so later, after settling in, and then looked back and reflected on why it was good for her and the family to move.

She stopped to collect her $200 dollars . . . .and it was too soon. We do the same sometimes. We don’t always live in the grace and mercy that God has extended to us. Instead, we too quickly look back at what once was, and what we once had.

How are you looking back?

Bible’s Major Players: Samuel

Slide2The Bible is filled with some major players. Samuel is one from the Old Testament.

Samuel is the son of Hannah, a wife of Elkanah. Elkanah’s other wife, Peninnah was able to give him children, but Hannah was barren and not able to have children. She prayed to God, asking for a son. God heard Hannah’s prayer, and blessed her with a son whom she named Samuel, meaning “God heard.” She gave the son back to God, devoting his life to the work of the temple in Shiloh. Samuel heard the voice of the Lord as a boy and continued to hear from God was seen as a prophet.

He is often viewed as the last and greatest of all the judges of Israel. One reason for this view can be seen in 1 Samuel 7:3-17. Prior to this episode, Israel has been at war with the Philistines. They had battled and battled, and then remembered that the Ark of the Covenant had been left at Shiloh. The act of forgetting the ark, the symbol of the presence of Yahweh, suggests that Israel, Walter Harrelson says, “has acted without consulting Yahweh at all.” After brining the ark out, the ark is captured by the Philistines – but not for long. Everywhere the Philistines take the ark, plagues follow.

Though Yahweh was not consulted, Yahweh is still in the battle. In the seventh chapter, Samuel gathers all of Israel together at Mizpah. He is the leader, one that is like that of Moses. In the midst of Canaanite culture and religion, along with the Philistine threat, the people are easily distracted and were putting their loyalty in other places. God called Samuel to refocus Israel’s loyalty back to Yahweh.

source: shrove.wordpress.com

source: shrove.wordpress.com

Samuel renews Israel’s commitment to God and the people start fresh. Samuel inspires new beginning. Samuel remained judge and leader of Israel until he reached an old age. It is his role, as Harrelson highlights, in the “establishment of the kingship” that marks “him as more than just another of the judges.”

As Samuel got older, the fun continued. The people requested that they have a king like all the other nations around them. They felt threatened by the growing, neighboring nations and did not have confidence in Samuel’s sons to be their judges. Samuel was not happy about this. How can they ask for a king to rule them on earth when their one sovereign God rules in both heaven and earth? Even so, Samuel seeks counsel from God.

God tells him to listen to the people’s request and give them a king. Samuel does so, but warns them first about what it will be like having a king (1 Samuel 8:10-18). Samuel concludes in verse 18 with a harsh truth:

In that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.

This statement makes it clear that Samuel did not approve of a monarchy. However, Samuel set aside his own personal thoughts and sought counsel from God.

How do you seek counsel from God?

Resources: Brueggemann, Walter. First and Second Samuel. John Knox Press, 1990. Harrelson, Walter. Interpreting the Old Testament. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964.

Bible’s Major Players: Potiphar’s Wife

Slide2The Bible is filled with some major players. Potiphar’s wife is one from the Old Testament.

The story of Potiphar’s wife is a part of the Joseph narrative found in Genesis 39. Joseph was sold in slavery by his jealous brothers. Through a series of fortunate events, guided by the hand of God, Joseph was purchased by Potiphar, the commander of Pharaoh’s royal guard, and an Egyptian. Joseph was quickly put in charge of the household. The Mr. Carson of Potiphar’s house (Genesis 39:6).

The Bible tells us that Joseph was young, handsome, and smart. He was a natural leader. No wonder he was in charge of the whole household at such a young age. So, here is Joseph the young, handsome, smart leader of the household. He has been rejected by his family, sold into slavery, and sent to a foreign land. He spends the bulk of his day in charge while his master is at work.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Potiphar is at home too. She was an older woman home with her servants most of the day. Maybe she was neglected. Maybe she was needy. Maybe Mr. P worked long hours. Maybe she needed attention.

Mrs. Potiphar is the original Real Housewife. She is attracted to Joseph and makes passes at him. And even though he denies her invitations, she doesn’t stop asking.

One day when Joseph arrived at the house to do his work, none of the household’s men were there. (Gen. 39:11, CEB)

Anyone else think this should cause a red flag?

She grabbed his garment, saying, “Lie down with me.” But he left his garment in her hands and run outside, she summoned the men of her house and said to them, “Look, my husband brought us a Hebrew to ridicule us. He came to me to lie down with me, but I screamed. When he heard me raise my voice and scream, he left his garment with me and ran outside.” (Gen. 39:12-14, CEB)

Joan Collins as Potiphar's wife in Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat

Joan Collins as Potiphar’s wife in Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat

You got to give her an A for effort. We quickly switched channels in this story from the Real Housewives to Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. When Mrs. P didn’t get what she wanted, she cried rape. A serious accusation, then and now.

There is no telling how many other housemen she had tried this with. Imagine the Real Housewives anger she must have experienced. Angry enough to blame her husband AND insult Joseph. “Look what this Hebrew my husband gave us did,” she says. But, let us not forget that she still had Joseph’s garments in her hand. But in Joseph’s case, clothes don’t make the man. God does.

But she is still part of the rich and powerful. She pleads her case to her husband, and he sends Joseph to jail. Some have suggested that if Potiphar really truly believed that Joseph had attempted to rape his wife, he would have had Joseph sentenced to death. Perhaps there is something special about this Hebrew.

Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann, in his commentary on Genesis, suggests that the two main characters in this episode symbolize a tension between the Kingdom and the empire. (Notice the upper and lower case letters, I did that on purpose). It is the tension between living as a faithful disciple and living as the world demands us to. It is the tension between living as called by the power of God and living as called by the power of society.

Potiphar’s wife represents the empire and those in power. Joseph is a symbol of the faithful. The faithful will be faced with moments when they will be asked by those in power (sex aside) to do something that goes against the Kingdom. Joseph’s response was to not do it, and to remain faithful to his God.

It should be noted that it was in jail that Joseph meets the men who tell him about Pharaoh’s dreams and interprets them. It because of these men in jail that Joseph rises to power as a Governor. Crappy things happened to Joseph, but God was with him through it all, and Joseph was faithful through it all.

What will your response be?

Resources: Brueggemann, Walter. Genesis. John Knox Press, 1982.

Bible’s Major Players: Jephthah’s Daughter

Slide2The Bible is filled with some major players. Jephthah’s daughter is one from the Old Testament.

The story of Jephthah’s daughter is found in Judges 11. Jephthah was a great warrior.  He was the child of Gilead and a prostitute. When his father’s other sons got older, they drove Jephthah out of town because of who is mother was. He forms together a band of desperadoes and stay at a place called Tov – the Land of Good.

The Ammonites attack Gilead, and the elders ask for Jepthah’s help. He says he will after he is promised that he will be made head of the council. Before going into battle, he makes one last vow to God. He promises that if he is granted a victory over his enemies, he will offer the first thing that comes out of his door when he returns home as a sacrifice.

You see where this is going.

StoryOTB082_p207_JephthahMeetsHisDaughterHe and his band of desperadoes win the battle. When he returns home, the first thing to come out and great him is his daughter, “his only child” (Judges 11:34). Jepthah is heart broken! He cannot break his promise to God. Ironically, his daughter does not protest. The only thing she asks for is two months to be alone.

And so, she retreats to the mountains and wails for her virginity. A modern reader of this tale may find this strange that she would want time to mourn for her virginity. It would seem more appropriate that she would mourn her own death. This ancient society, however, puts a huge amount of importance on the woman’s role as child bearer. As Virginia Stem Owens writes, “One was protected forward in time on the catapult of continuing generations.”

When two months had passed, she returned to her father, and he did to her what he had promised. She had not known a man intimately. But she gave rise to a tradition in Israel where for four days every year Israelite daughters would go away to recount the story of the Gileadite, Jephthah’s daughter. (Judges 11:39-40, Common English Bible)

Jephthah’s daughter turned a tragedy into a tradition.

What women in your life have inspired faith traditions for you?

Resources: Owens, Virginia Stem. Daughters of Eve. NavPress, 1995.

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