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About a year ago, I shook my proverbial fist at God and told him he had a year to prove to me he wasn’t a bully. Nine months later I found myself on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land (because who doesn’t travel halfway across the world in the middle of a crisis of faith?). At one point, we all crowded into a dim room below a church to gather around Jacob’s well, the historical site of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman. Everyone, quiet with reverence, watched as our friend Mary drew water from the well. Closing my eyes, I took a deep breath and finally shed the last layer of resentment I still held against God. In that moment, I wondered what Jesus would do if he were to encounter me privately in that place. I imagined a tenderness in his fierce determination to embrace me, a woman—the “other”—as a friend. After all, is this not what a peacemaker does?

My lingering resentment at the time was partly rooted in frustration with conventional understandings of female figures in scripture. I’ve often found them to be disparaging, distorting our perspective of women’s participation in peacemaking and the mission of God. We are conditioned to assume a posture of distrust toward women, seeing them as suspect. This is clear in the ways we continue to deprecate women’s emotions, routinely disbelieve women’s testimony, and question women’s intentions.

In the case of the Samaritan woman, although very little about her is revealed, we presume she is immoral. However, the text does not explicitly make this judgement. It’s likely she lost her five husbands through divorces (possibly for childlessness) and deaths (it was common for young girls to marry older men), and her current partner may have been unable to legally marry her. This is not an uncommon pattern in the ancient world [1]. The final nail in the coffin is what Jesus doesn’t say. There is no plea to “go and sin no more” or similar call to repentance, a practice found elsewhere in the gospels. Any evidence that suggests this is a woman of ill repute in her community is speculative at best.

Traditional attitudes toward women are a fundamental divergence from Jesus’ orientation toward them—toward us. Instead of a posture of suspicion, Jesus assumes a posture of humility and trust toward the Samaritan woman. As he sends his companions to town for food (presumably along with the water bucket they would have been carrying on their journey through the desert), he deliberately places himself in a situation where he has to submit himself to her care. Moreover, he intentionally subverts both the gender and geopolitical power structures of the time by choosing to meet with her alone [2]. She is not unaware of the subversive nature of this interaction, as we often are.

Additionally, the substance and content of their conversation are equally as powerful. It is the longest conversation between Jesus and any one person recorded in the gospels and is predominantly theological [1]. She initiates (read: leads) this with her question (or challenge?) about worship. This may be one of the most significant boundaries Jesus crosses—Jewish males do not engage with women of any heritage in theological discussion [2]. He does not feel threatened by her challenge, another mark of humility (we see him likewise defend Mary’s right to engage similarly in Luke 10). Instead he honors her dignity as an image bearer of God. At the end of the interaction, Jesus further reveals himself to her as the Messiah, effectively equipping and commissioning her as the first evangelist in history, bringing Shalom to her entire community.

The same community today, now Balata refugee camp, is in need of Shalom. Originally designed to house 5,000 Palestinian refugees on one square kilometer, the same plot of land is now bursting at the seams with some 30,000, making it the most impoverished and crowded in the West Bank.

Women peacemakers in Balata and throughout the West Bank have devoted themselves to the economic development of their communities through creative entrepreneurial enterprises despite restricted mobility and socio-cultural barriers. They are operating schools, women’s centers, breweries, farms, and small businesses. Two peacemakers that come to mind, Moira, an American-Palestinian woman, and Raya, an Israeli woman, who both lost their husbands to the conflict, participate in The Parents’ Circle, a grassroots organization for bereaved Israelis and Palestinians that “promotes reconciliation as an alternative to hatred and revenge” serving over 600 families [3]. As these women engage in the costly work of peacemaking within their families and communities, I imagine them seeking and finding refreshment from the same living water Jesus offers the Samaritan woman.

Absolutely critical to sustainable peacemaking initiatives around the globe have been women’s contributions, resourcefulness, and leadership. Lynne Hybels, a mentor of mine and a friend of The Global Immersion Project, says that “women are the greatest untapped resource in the world” [5]. Their “agency, their creativity and patience, and their capacity to love and to build consensus—all these qualities make women a valuable constituency for peace” [4]. I think Jesus intuitively understood this. Lastly, a shout out to TGIP for doing powerful work in this area. Their learning labs and other experiences are incredible tools contributing to the formation and empowerment of women as peacemakers. If you ever have the opportunity to join them in a learning lab, don’t hesitate to get involved.

“May we never hesitate to let passion push us, conviction compel us, and righteous anger energize us. May we strike fear into all that is unjust and evil in the world. May we dismantle abusive systems and silence lies with truth.” – the Dangerous Women Creed, by Lynne Hybels [5]

Samantha Ham

 

[1] Margaret Mowczko, newlife.id.au/equality-and-gender-issues/samaritan-woman-john-4/

[2] Matt Tebbe, www.missioalliance.org/jesus-engages-missionally-dangerous-foreigner/

[3] www.theparentscircle.org/

[4] Lakshmi Puri, UN Women Deputy Executive Director, www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2012/10/sustainable-peace-for-a-sustainable-future

[5] Lynne Hybels, www.lynnehybels.com/dangerous-women-creed/

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