Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Being the Other (John 4:9-10)

The Samaritan woman replied, “You’re a Jew. How can you ask me, a Samaritan, for a drink?” – since Jews had nothing to do with Samaritans.  Jesus answered, “If only you recognized God’s gift, and who it is that is asking you for a drink, you would have asked him for a drink instead, and he would have given you living water.”                                                                                                                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                                                                                   John 4:9-10
Bad Bad Boy by Tommi Toija
Samaritans/Jews, Romans/Barbarians, Europeans/Turks, Colonizers/Native Peoples – history is full of divisions. Of course we have our own experience of the Gay/Straight divide. I call this division the “big assumption.” We just assume that it is proper and is to be honored.

In the encounter of John 4 is a Samaritan female rebuffing the advances of a Jewish male; maintaining the divide over something as simple as a request for water. This divide is deep, for a long and tortuous history between the two ethnicities is at work here. 

There may also be another ancient divide in play, the divide between a prostitute and her John. That the woman is by herself at the well is unusual and may be a sign that she is ostracized by “proper” society. That she is at the well by herself talking to a man who is by himself certainly raises eyebrows. Her rebuff may hide a more provocative business request. The ancient divide between a sex worker and her customer seems to simmer below the innuendos and retorts.

Jesus is not concerned for such rifts. His concern is for reconciliation. He invites the woman to consider the price of reunion. The woman will need to let go of her narrative. Even in this longer passage the woman wrestles with giving up her claim on that which gives her identity: her sense of heritage, her claim to respectability, her sense of God. The woman will need to relinquish her truth and allow it to enter into deeper understanding by another.

It strikes me that to resolves the present animosity in some quarters between queer and straight folks, we need to observe the model between the Samaritan woman and Jesus. What does it mean for the heteroarchial complex to relinquish its claim to the heritage as the dominant sexual paradigm? What does it mean for queer people to set aside our sense of victimization for a narrative of overcoming?

Part of the US Civil Rights movement had a component which understood that true equality also meant liberating “white society” from its own blinders. White America is just as much trapped in the racial conundrum as is African Americans. Where the Civil Rights movement genuinely triumphs is in the liberation of all, and just not a few.

If we who are queer are going to change society in an authentic and sustainable way, we must reach out and work toward reconciliation with straight folks. If we don’t we will always be the “other.”

As we see in this exchange between the Samaritan woman and Jesus, reconciliation is hard work. We must set aside the very things that identify us as “us” and them as “them,” so a new identity of “we” may emerge. This, Jesus reminds us, is the long sought drink of living water.

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