Academic journal article Theological Studies

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman (Jn 4:1-42) in Africa

Academic journal article Theological Studies

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman (Jn 4:1-42) in Africa

Article excerpt

A STUDY IN AFRICA of the Johannine Jesus and the Samaritan woman could take a number of directions. A reader response approach could match different aspects of the story with situations of marginalization and exploitation on the Continent. (1) Another approach could explore the specifically "feminist" dimensions and their implications for the church in Africa and beyond. (2) In my first major work on the episode, given the dominance of the historical-critical method at the time, I contextualized my reading of the passage by relating it to the possible contexts of the Evangelist and his immediate audience. (3) Even that seemed a major departure from the beaten track. (4) Since then the situation has changed, and the scholarship is more open to other ways of reading the biblical text. (5)

This current issue of Theological Studies marks the 30th anniversary of Virgilio Elizondo's "groundbreaking dissertation, which addressed the significance of the Galilean Jesus for U.S. Latinos ... and the 40th anniversary of the option for the poor of the Latin American Bishops at Medellin" (1968). (6) Such an event celebrating the Galilean Jesus and the option for the poor calls for yet another contextual approach. To better situate this study of Jesus and the Samaritan woman from an African perspective shaped by this double axis, my contribution invites Jesus and the woman to the Continent where they share certain elements with Africans--thus the title, "Jesus and the Samaritan Woman (Jn 4:1-42) in Africa."

The contours of the story are simple. Rejected in Judea, Jesus left for Galilee through Samaria, in obedience to the divine imperative of his mission. Sitting there exhausted at a well, he enters into dialogue with a Samaritan woman who has come to fetch water, and leads her to faith in him as her long-expected Messiah. She abandons her water pot, symbol of her daily and society-gendered chores, goes to the town, and invites her people to come and encounter Jesus and to discover him for themselves as she had done. While she is gone, Jesus prepares his disciples to enter into the harvest of his work in Samaria, and to reap a fruit that would overcome their inherited prejudices on race, class, and gender. At the end of the encounter, Jesus, the disciples, the woman, and the Samaritans enter into a communion fellowship, transcending a complex variety of sociocultural, gender, and religious barriers that would otherwise keep them apart. Of their own accord, the Samaritans confess Jesus not simply as their expected Jewish Messiah, but as the "Savoir of the world."

The proposed invitation of Jesus and the Samaritan woman to Africa raises certain questions. Who are they in their own contexts before they take the trip? Under what circumstances will they visit Africa, a continent of over 52 counties, each with a multiplicity of cultures and languages, and of a size that cannot be traversed in a day? And what of the fact that both Samaria and Galilee, taken together, are far smaller in size and population than some of Africa's largest cities? Whom would they meet? On what subjects would they dialogue? Are there situations in Africa with which they would readily identify? What Messianic expectations would Jesus address in the people of Africa so as to lead them to faith? Would they listen to the woman's gospel invitation to come and see a person who told her all that she ever did, and would they consider him a possible Messiah on that basis? Would they call him the "Savior of the world," not on the woman's word, but after meeting him personally, as the Samaritans did? These are some questions that might guide my study. Interesting as they are, however, I will focus on the question most salient for this special issue of Theological Studies, namely, What do Jesus of Nazareth in Galilee and the Samaritan woman share in common from their own contexts with those they would likely meet in a "homecoming" visit to Africa? (7)

The method will be narrative and intertextual. …

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