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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Christ at Jacob's Well and Emmaus

He Qi "Road to Emmaus"
I hope this will be short. I think, over the two-plus years that I've written in this blog I've spilled a lot of electrons on the subject of the Samaritan woman story, but guess what? Something struck me Sunday when I was listening to the gospel again (and again and again.) Maybe I'm not the first person to notice it, but it was the first time that I noticed it: the parallels between the story in John 4 of Jesus and the Samaritan woman and Luke's account of the Emmaus road.

This may simply be the result of having spent some time trying to interiorize the exegesis the James Alison has done on the Emmaus story in his book and Christianity course, The Forgiving Victim. Thus, it may be that what is similar is my hearing the Samaritan woman story (which you already know is political and ethnic, rather than personal) and Alison's reading of the Emmaus story, which is important in his exposition of scripture, that is, that we Christians need to interpret scripture through the key of the victim Jesus, much as the Jews interpreted Torah through the key of the "meek" Moses.  In any case, the political interpretation (in the light of Acts 8) is not necessary to see these parallelisms, but it helps. For what it's worth, after those disclaimers, this is the parallelism I saw:

John 4
Luke 24
Location: Samaria, outside the boundaries of Judea. Jesus and disciples “on the road.”
Location: On the way home, leaving Jerusalem for Emmaus. (Jesus and) disciples “on the road.”
Danger from sectarian violence.
Danger from relationship to the crucified one, an “enemy of Caesar.”
Jesus starts the conversation. “Give me a drink.”
Jesus starts the conversation. “What are you talking (having such a heated discussion)  about?”
Her unfulfilled hopes. “Give me this water, sir, so I don’t have to keep coming back here.”
Their unfulfilled hopes. “We had hoped that he would be the one to set Israel free!”
Jesus takes the woman’s story, and reinterprets it for her. “He told me everything I’ve ever done.”
Jesus takes the story Clopas and friend tell, and reinterprets it for them. “Jesus then explained everything written about himself in the Scriptures, beginning with the Law of Moses and the Books of the Prophets.”
Apostles bring food. Jesus refuses it. “I’ve already eaten something better.”
Apostles offer food. Jesus disappears.
Woman runs to the village, “Come and see!”
Clopas and his companion return to Jerusalem to tell the disciples their story. They exchange appearance stories. “We have seen the Lord!”
Villagers (Samaria?) come to faith. “This is truly the Savior of the word.”
Apostles come to faith.  “…They knew he was the Lord when he broke the bread.” (CEV)

What might account for these similarities? Well, certainly the fact that both narratives are post-resurrection accounts of the meaning of Jesus in the context of "gospels." These books were not written while Jesus was alive, but half a century or more after his death, and after the cataclysmic destruction of Jerusalem, and at a time when the imminence of the return of Jesus was starting to be doubted, at least by those who thought it was imminent. Some aspects of the meaning of Jesus's proclamation of the reign of God and how that reign was visible in his life could certainly have emerged similarly in different communities and times.

Alison wants us to see that seeing the events of "Holy Week" through Jesus eyes gives us the correct way to interpret all of scripture, i.e., the Law and the prophets. Jesus is able to take the very texts that had led the disciples to imagine a new world order before it had crumbled at the death of Jesus and help them to see that indeed the new order was already here but they had misunderstood it before. The key to understanding, somehow, is the breaking of the bread, with all of the nuances that would have come with that after their having spent a couple of years doing that with him two or three times a day. God is not a participant in the power-broking and death-dealing kingdom of Caesar, is not in rivalry with other gods, but reveals in Jesus that life is gently triumphant, and that agape and mutual service is a way out of the destructive, self-made hell that hatred and rivalry have made of civilization.

If I apply Alison's hermeneutic to the Samaritan woman story, a similar story of resurrection life for the world emerges. The separation between enemies (e.g., Samaritan and Jew) disappears. The weariness of life, symbolized by the 6 husbands, is transformed by the meeting of number 7 at the well into a joyful proclamation of freedom, total immersion of the thirsty heart in living water. The meaning of life is discovered as alienation is transformed into apostleship and connection. God is not a participant in our religious and ethnic rivalry, the infighting of our race, but loves us anyway and always, inviting us to live together in a new kingdom or empire, the household of abba, a place and time of mutual respect and loving-kindness.

This is just the seed of an idea, if there is an idea there at all. But I'm grateful for my exposure to Alison and his insights about the Emmaus story, which for one Sunday at least, helped me to see the Samaritan woman story in a new light, maybe the light of the world.

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