The Gift of Unbounded Identity
“A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)”
March 10, 2023, Words By: Esau Oreso, Image By: Blakely Dadson
“You are a Luo, right? Go buy from a Luo’s shop.” These were words spoken to me by a shop owner in my neighborhood in the wake of Kenya’s post-general election violence in 2007-2008.
I felt his bitterness as he spoke those words and discerned how his pain was already isolating him from his usual reliable customers like me. The political contest took a dangerous tribal dimension and claimed over 1000 lives in just a few weeks.
Conversations premised on identity can be uncomfortable at times, especially if one is coming from a minority group in a polarized society. Whereas identity may provide a deep sense of belonging and confidence, it can also sadly inadvertently reinforce stereotypes that cloud one’s sight and cause one to over value and devalue others, therefore creating “superhuman” and “sub humans” categories in a society.
Sadly, that seems to be a reality in most of our communities.
In today’s text John introduces us to a remarkable story of Jesus encountering a Samaritan woman by the well. Jesus crosses socio-cultural and religious boundaries and there, establishes a relationship with the Samaritan woman, a relationship that eventually leads to plentiful harvest.
The Jews disdain for the Samaritans was a sad reality during Jesus’ time. Historically, the Samaritans were descendants of native Israelites who were not deported after the fall of Israel, and the foreigners brought in by the Assyrians to settle in the land to neutralize any potential post-exilic rebellion (2 Kings 1:24-28).
Luke and John include stories that reflect a great divide between the Samaritans and the Jews, and a countering pride of spiritual entitlement among the Jews. The Samaritans are lifted as those who, despite the Jews privileges still, stand out as obedient to Jesus’ teachings and partakers in God’s kingdom.
Jesus breaks and bridges the socio-cultural and religious divides that have existed between the Jews and the Samaritans. In his conversation with the Samaritan woman, he reveals himself as the gift of God, the living water, and the Messiah who was to come for the whole world (vs 10, 13, 14, 26). Encountering Jesus allows the woman to experience the true light of the Messiah that makes her a passionate witness to Jesus’ omniscience, calling her city to come and have a first-hand experience of Jesus.
At the end of the encounter, the woman no longer views herself as an outsider trapped in her community’s identity and arguments on worship places. She is surrendered to the one who fully knows her and deeply loves her just as she is. She can now experience the gift of God, the living water, and become a channel through which others in her community may know the Messiah and taste the living waters. When the people in her city finally encounter Jesus, they too come to faith in him.
Like the Samaritan woman, we are blind to our real need until Jesus opens our eyes, first to see him as he really is, then us as we really are. Jesus sees us in a way that includes and honors our different identities — our ethnicity, language, cultural idiosyncrasies — without being over and against others. Jesus sees us in a way that looks past the hurtful and harmful labels that others place upon us. But most importantly, Jesus sees us as His children — our primary identity. The clarity of sight from being known by the messiah unbinds us.
It unbinds us from the cages of contempt that surround us when we judge others, and it frees us from the prisons of self loathing when we internalize the labels others place upon us. God doesn’t diminish our earthly identities, so to speak, but instead gives us the perspective to see that they fall within our primary identity as ones who are loved by their Creator.
In a world full of differences, is it possible, not that we see too many identities, but instead that we are missing the most important identity in ourselves and others — that we are all loved by God. Imagine how many people would come running to the well if we started to see ourselves and others through Jesus’ eyes.
Dwelling Among Us
How might we cross boundaries, experience and catalyze life, within our spheres of influence?
How do we change the conversations of identity from differences to commonalities of our shared humanity?