Our Lenten Bible Study this week asked us to consider our propensity to use stuff to make us happy. We buy more and more in the hope that if I have this or that it will make us happy.
Strangely, despite constantly finding that the latest things did not make us happy, we keep on doing it. We just look for something else to make us happy.
There are a number of remarkable features of our Gospel story today that invite us to consider such things.
Let me begin with a diversion. The work of interpretation is a very tricky thing. I find this every Sunday when I prepare a sermon for our Nuba people that I know will have to be interpreted.
I want to invite you to consider some new understandings of this story based on an interpretation issue that resolves what has always been something of a disconnect in the story.
Jesus did not speak Koine Greek. He spoke Aramaic which in some ways was rather like Hebrew but was different enough to have its own name. So, the stories of Jesus began in Aramaic but then were translated, probably verbally, into Koine Greek and then written down in it when the Gospels were written. This Koine Greek then was translated in English for us.
So, at each step along the way with this it is possible for the original intention of a word to be lost or at least changed a little.
There are many remarkable features of the story – not least that Jesus would talk to this woman in a public place. By doing this he was breaking some very important social mores.
They jumped right into a religious conversation – discussing the merits of Judaism over the claims of the Samaritans.
Clearly this lady was a bit of religious seeker. She was quite literate about the issues. The world she lived in was full of religious choices – and maybe she had tried a few.
Then comes a bit of a disconnect. Jesus asks where is your husband?
They have been talking about various aspects of Samaritan religion and Jesus raises her marital status. Over time many preachers have offered plausible explanations for this – all making points that are worthy of consideration.
Let’s see if I can offer another explanation that avoids the apparent disconnect and makes another point worthy of consideration as well.
In Aramaic the word for Husband is Ba’al – a term that we are not unfamiliar with, but where we get the transliteration of this word we are generally not talking about husbands. This is because there is a link in the idea of Ba’al as God or Lord and the idea of husband in the Aramaic.
What if Jesus actually asked her “Where is your false God?”
She says she has none. He says she has five.
Then she raises the idea of the Samaritans not having to worship on the Mount at Jerusalem.
If the interpreter has to use the context to decide on the meaning of ambiguous words, I would like to suggest that this is a worthy alternative reading of the text. It eliminates the disconnect I suggested was there, and it invites us to consider some very worthwhile teaching of Jesus that is presented in the story.
Religious seekers are the most wonderful people to meet. They have tried to find something that satisfies, but have been left wanting more. And this gives us an opportunity to talk about what it is about our faith that works for us.
And we can tell them about how Jesus said that he would give us “living water” that truly satisfied our thirst. And even if we can’t describe it we can say that somehow it works – because it works for us. It really satisfies. It doesn’t leave us looking for something else.
This is a story for our time – where people have more choice about religion than ever before. It’s simple but penetrating message is that what Jesus has to offer is all you will ever need. This is truly good news.