This turned out to be the last Sunday we worshipped in the building, to date. All classes were already online; services moved entirely online the next Sunday.
I wrote this as notes which are pretty sketchy, so don’t expect full sentences!
Photini in a Time of Plague
—First off, the Samaritan woman had a name. Local Palestinian and Eastern Christian tradition names her Photini—light bearer.
—Second, if you went on pilgrimage with me, then you know that her well is DEEP. It’s still there, outside of Nablus, and you can drop a bucket down and drink from it still.
But more importantly, what are we to make of this strange conversation about worship and husbands?
Because as she and Jesus are talking about the proper worship of God, all of a sudden, Jesus starts asking about her husbands, and just as quickly, she switches back to talking about where to worship God. If you remember your Hebrew prophets, adultery is always used as a metaphor for religious unfaithfulness. When the Israelites would wander off and worship idols, which happened roughly every 20 minutes, the prophets would say they were committing infidelity. It was an easy allegory.
So Jesus isn’t describing her actual marital state—he’s naming that the Samaritan people had been conquered 5 times, by 5 different empires. Which was true. And Photini, in turn, catches the allusion, and continues to debate theology.
Which makes this a remarkable woman indeed. Out alone at a well, in the middle of the day, and a frustrated theologian.
We don’t know why she was out there alone; we do know that something was wrong, because to quote the saying “Only mad dogs and Englishmen stand in the midday sun.” These conditions weren’t ideal for anyone. Maybe she ran out of water at home. Maybe she got into a fight with the other women. Maybe there was sickness, and she was being isolated. We don’t know.
But it strikes me that Photini was a woman who knew what it was to be isolated. To fear. To live unprotected by her society, her government, perhaps even by her family. And perhaps the reason she immediately starts talking theology with Jesus is that for her, God is the only thing she has to rely on.
Yet when we see her in her isolation, we see her encountering Jesus. Again, Jesus found Nicodemus in the night of his fear, and now Jesus has found Photini in her isolation. The disciples, conversely, still don’t know what’s going on. When Jesus says he has food they don’t know about, they assume he has a hidden pita in his pocket or something. But he seeks out the frightened and the alone.
And when she encounters Jesus, she engages. She demands answers. She asks questions. She is ready. And the result is a woman restored to the embrace of her community at the end. Jesus answers her questions. He doesn’t shame her or rebuke her for her fear or isolation. He doesn’t explain away her feelings. He meets her where she is. And brings her healing and wholeness of life.
In this current climate, we are facing something none of us have faced before. It is new and it is overwhelming and it is scary. But Christ meets us just when we are most alone and afraid. Our fear and isolation aren’t barriers to him, and they can’t be barriers to our support for each other, either.