Chapter 3: The Woman at the Well
I didn’t read the whole book. Forgive me. I got it for the one chapter. I’m learning that this is the only way to have time to do more reading and stay on topic.
I first scanned this chapter standing in the Barnes and Noble near TCU’s campus. I read something about Rachel coming to the well at the heat of the day, gasped and yet walked away. I kept thinking about that. I couldn’t remember why Pitre commented on it, considering that so many have used the hour that the WatW comes to the well as an argument for her low social standing. But if Rachel came to the well at the same time….
Fast forward two weeks and I’m in the Barnes and Noble near LSU’s campus. I marched straight for the “Christian Living” section and snatched the book up and bought it as a Valentine’s day present to myself and a nod to Louisiana for producing men like Pitre (and my husband, naturally). Plus, it’s Jesus the Bridegroom for crying out loud. How romantical can you get?
Dr. Pitre does indeed mention the hour that Rachel comes to the well:
“And just as Jacob encounters Rachel at the well at ‘high day’ or ‘midday’ (Genesis 29:7) so too Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman at ‘the sixth hour,’ right around noon (John 4:6).”
*rant warning. feel free to skip this part in purple and move on to the grey text.*
Dear Every Preacher in America and the World,
Stop using time of day as evidence that the Samaritan woman was a slut and an outcast. Unless you are gonna call Rachel one too
because of the time of day she went to the well.
Not gonna do that?
The above quote is in the discussion regarding the Jewish perspective that a story of a man and a woman meeting at a well is taken immediately as a courtship story. It is, apparently, the "meet-cute" of the OT. Pitre goes on to say that the disciples were not shocked to see Jesus talking to a woman- he cites verse references which indicate that it wasn’t usual for Jesus to interact with women- but that they are “surprised that he is talking with a strange woman at a well. Although the disciples are sometimes dense, they know Jewish Scripture well enough to figure out that this kind of encounter between a man and a woman usually leads to a wedding.”
Pitre’s aim is to show the ways in which the Samaritan woman is a figure of the bride of Christ, and I don’t think there’s much to deny in that argument. The language that the author of the fourth gospel uses is packed with symbolism, but considering that the narrative doesn't stop there, it’s plausible that there was some real encounter, and that this woman was the facilitator of the first group of non-Jewish people coming to believe in Christ as the Messiah.
I’m very comfortable with the courtship metaphor as long as it remains the level of a metaphor, and Pitre does a great job of elaborating on all the elements of the story that reflect the relationship between Jesus the Bridegroom and gentile believers becoming accepted as part of His church- the bride. It’s a beautiful allegory.
AJ Levine (bless her straightforward and brilliant heart) in The Misunderstood Jew elaborates on the *cough* sexual *cough* overtones of this encounter. When I start to think about the Samaritan woman as real and the possible implications of this meeting, the ground feels a bit wobbly. I’m really not sure how to move on and separate the figurative from the literal. Maybe I don’t have to at all. Maybe when Jesus repeated the encounter to the disciples verbatim, they were like “Oh man! She had five husbands? That’s how many gods the Samaritans worship!” I doubt it. But I still am not sure what to do with it.
Back to the book. I really like Pitre’s writing style. I trust that his scholarship is rigorous, and that makes his accessible prose all the more wonderful. He’s Catholic, so my mom probably won’t want to read it, but all her relatives will, and I think, should.
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