Reflections on Radical Jesus the Taboo Breaker

Reflections on Radical Jesus the Taboo Breaker
Brother Lawrence Damien Cos

Dear Family,

Today’s gospel reading was on the women at the well of Jacob in Samaria. If we read this from a 21st century we might think what is so shocking about this passage. After all men talk to women everyday even women they don’t know, they do it publicly and they sometimes even ask women to help them with something. So for us no scandal at all, That is because we look at it from a 21st century mindset and not from a first century point of view. In the first century especially if they were a good devout Jew reading today’s gospel reading this would have been the most scandalous chapter in the whole New Testament. To them it would have been all the proof they needed that Jesus in their eyes anyway was not the Messiah, a prophet or a holy man. Everything Jesus was supposed to do according to the 613 laws of the Pharisee’s he didn’t do and everything they said he wasn’t supposed to do he did. Had they had the National Enquirer back in those days this would have been front page news at least if the religious people had had their way. Why is this?

To understand that we need to understand who the Samaritans were. When Rehoboam assumes the throne after the death of his father King Solomon, 10 of the tribes under Jeroboam revolt and form the northern kingdom of Israel whose capital ultimately is located at Samaria. They are carried off finally in 722 BC into captivity by the Assyrians. Then the Assyrians brought people from Cutha, Ava, Hamath and Sepharvaim to inhabit Samaria ..These foreigners intermarried with the Israelite population that was still in and around Samaria. These “Samaritans” at first continued to worship the idols of their own nations. They begin to have troubles with lions killing their people. They supposed it was because they had not honored the God of that territory. They ask for a priest to be sent to them and a Jewish priest from Assyria is sent to them to instruct them in the Jewish religion. They were instructed from the five books of Moses but still held onto many of their idolatrous customs. Thus the Samaritans embraced a religion that was a mixture of Judaism and idolatry. Because of this mixture and the fact that the inhabitants had intermarried with the foreigners and adopted their idolatrous religion Samaritans were considered to be “half breeds” and were universally despised by true Jews.

There were four other reasons for the animosity between Israelites and the Samaritans. They are as follows:

1. When the Jews return to Judea after seventy years in Babylon they begin rebuilding their temple. The Samaritans offered to help with the building their offer is rejected because they are “half Breeds” and not true Jews. After that point they do everything they can to obstruct and halt the undertaking but were unsuccessful.

2. When the Samaritans can’t help with the building of the temple in Jerusalem they go ahead and build their own temple on Mount Gerizim which they insisted was place designated by Moses as the place where the nation was to worship. Their leader Sanballat, who had led the unsuccessful attempt to stop the building of the Jerusalem temple, makes his son in law, Manasses high priest. Manasses was not of either the Aaronic or Levitical priesthoods and therefore not entitled to be high priest or priest. Therefore totally unacceptable to the Jews. This appointing of their own high priest also perpetuated the idolatrous religion of the Samaritans. This was equally unacceptable to the Jews.

3. Samaria became a place of refuge for all the outlaws of Judea. The Samaritans willingly received Jewish criminals and refugees from justice. . The violators of the Jewish laws, and those who had been excommunicated, found safety for themselves in Samaria, greatly increasing the hatred which existed between the two nations.

4. The Samaritans only accepted the first five books of Moses and rejected the writings of the prophets and all the Jewish traditions. To them anything outside the five books of Moses was added on by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. The Samaritans alone retained the original scriptures and therefore were the keepers of the true religion passed down by Moses not the religious leaders in Jerusalem.

From these causes arose irreconcilable differences between them. Jews regarded the Samaritans as the worst of the human race and demon possessed and refused to have any dealing with them whatsoever . They would not go into Samaria but would go around lest they be defiled by contact with them or with their land. They also refused to talk with them under any circumstances.

Having said all that lets see why I consider and entitled this Radical Jesus the Taboo Breaker.

.1. He goes into Samaria

In John 4:4 in the New King James Version it says Jesus needed to go to Samaria. To the devout Jew this was almost blasphemy. They would have insisted the only thing he needed to do was to stay as far away from Samaria as he could. Samaritans were devils, unclean and their land was defiled. No good Jew would dare go there or have anything to do with anyone living there. So Jesus was breaking the “law” by entering Samaria. However it doesn’t stop there.

2. He speaks to a woman

The second taboo he breaks is speaking to a woman. A man was not supposed to any woman who was not his wife, daughter or close relative and then only in the privacy of their home. Here Jesus is talking with a woman who he has just meant, is not related to and doing it publically. Even his disciples were taken back when they return from a shopping trip in town to obtain food for them but wisely choose not to question why Jesus is talking with a woman. However in the eyes of the religious leaders its about to get worse.

3. Jesus speaks to a Samaritan

Oy vey what’s the world coming to? Does Jesus know that he is not supposed to talk with Samaritans? After all according to the Jewish leaders they are devils and have demons in them Good Jews aren’t supposed to talk with them let alone have anything to do with them. Yet Jesus does.

4: Jesus treats her as an equal

On this one the I was once told by an Orthodox priest I studied under that the men when they first arise in the morning pray in part “ Lord I thank you for not making me a gentile and I thank you Lord for not making me a woman”. That was how the Jewish men felt about women. Basically the were seen a being about one step above an animal. Thus in talking to a woman and treating her as an equal Jesus blows this taboo sky high In talking with the woman at the well Jesus doesn’t talk down to her. He doesn’t treat as if she has nothing to say and her opinion worthless. The prevailing attitude of the day were women didn’t know anything, were just property owned by their fathers, husbands, masters, who were just supposed to get marry and produce lots of children. They also were to take care of the home cooking, cleaning, watching and taking care of the small children, take care of the animals etc. They were expected to leave things like religion, politics, making money to the men folk. It was also forbidden for a woman to study the Torah or read it. It was for men only. This raises the question as to where the woman got her knowledge from as she is able to comprehend and add to the discussion as she talks with Jesus. Wherever she got her information from Jesus doesn’t rebuke her but leads her deeper into truth and faith in him. The rabbi’s would have been shocked and possibly have had her executed for the knowledge she had. Thus we far we have seen Jesus break four taboos by doing just the opposite of what the religious leaders said he should do. However he doesn’t stop there he still has more taboos to break.

5: He talks to a woman with a possible sordid past

We know the woman had four husbands and by inference was shacking up with a man. I can see the gossips having a field day with this one. Why did she have four husbands? May she is a bad woman and that’s why she’s been through four husbands. What she’s living with a man? That’s adultery take her out and stone her to death. Of course no mention of the man she is living with that should have been stoned with her if that were going to happen. However we don’t know what happened to the husbands. We don’t know if they all died, or they all divorced her, or some mixture with some dying while others divorced her. We are not told. All we are told is she had four husbands. Anything more than that is conjecture.

Some may say she was living with a man therefore she was a sinner. Not according to Jesus. He knows she is living with a man whom she is not married to and she has admitted it. Yes Jesus is silent on the relationship. He doesn’t call her sinner, doesn’t tell her to break up her relationship with the man or to move out of his home. Neither does he tell her that they have to go the priest and get married. He is simply silent. If Jesus didn’t think a big enough issue to speak up on perhaps the church should do likewise and remain silent. We are now down to the last two taboos Jesus breaks in this passage of scripture we’ve been looking at.

6: Jesus allows woman to go testify about him
In this time a woman’s word was considered worthless. She could not be a witness in court or testify and in church had to be silent. We see this attitude expressed by the disciples on Easter. Jesus appears to some women and tells them to go tell the disciples that he s alive. The disciples won’t accept the testimony of the women and finally Jesus has to show up in person and rebuke them for their unbelief and refusal to listen to the women. The rabbis would have insisted only men could testify and minister to other men. Yet off goes the first woman evangelist and brings a crowd of men with her to meet Jesus. She doesn’t tell them what to do but gives her testimony and invites the men to come check out Jesus for themselves. Finally one last taboo Jesus breaks.

7: He stays with them two days
Finally after talking with them they invite him to stay and he does. To the good people in Jerusalem this would have been probably been the final straw. Bad enough that he went to Samaria but now he should keep on moving and get through there as quick as possible. However Jesus tarries there for two days. During that time he shares meals with them, teaches them, visits their homes and makes friends with them before he goes back to Judea

In summation anyone of the seven taboos I listed above would have by themselves been enough by themselves to have created a scandal for Jesus let alone all seven of them. The religious leaders would have been absolutely convinced Jesus was a radical out to do away with their traditions and take away their power. They would feel so threatened they would ultimately railroad him to death at Calvary. So what did all this taboo breaking accomplish? Very simple. When the early church starts to expand beyond the confines of Jerusalem the first they place they go to is Samaria. There Philip and Peter and John help to get the first Christian church outside Jerusalem organized. It is my belief that the seeds Jesus planted in the two days he was with them bore fruit at this time. Thus a harvest is born because Jesus was willing to break some taboos for a greater cause.

So how does this apply to those of us in the 21st century? To answer that I have to ask do we want to be a Christian Church or just another denomination or another religion out doing its thing? If someone wants to join our church and the first thing we do is check them out to make sure they meet our specifications, then present with a list of rules and beliefs they have to subscribe to and believe then we are nothing more than another church, another denomination out doing our own thing. What worked yesterday won’t work today and most definitely what worked a century or more ago won’t work today. Why because we live in the 21st century with different problems than they did then. We have moved on to new battles, new ideas that demand new ways of thinking and acting. It’s not enough to say “It’s how we’ve always done it”. Nor is it enough to quote creeds and doctrine of men.

Although Jesus never broke God’s laws he broke many man made laws and taboos. Can we do that too? That is what I believe a Christian Church is. Like Jesus it’s all for breaking the taboos of man and breaking the chains that enslave people because of trying to keep the all the laws. When man made laws say kick the immigrant out of our country can we stand up put our arms around them and welcome them and show them the real deal Christ living in and through us? When they want o build a wall to keep people out can we say no and find ways to build paths of love, acceptance, toleration, and unity that will let us all live in harmony and peace? When we are asked to go to war again can we finally stand up and say no more ware because we choose peace instead? Can we love our sons, and daughters and our own lives more than we hate our enemies? What about social justice, gay rights, ecology, environment, women’s right and a host of other issues where will we stand?

In closing we can have a new society and a changed for the better world. The church can be a vibrant and alive body and not an extinct dinosaur that they should’ve taken out had a decent service for then buried it and left it there. To do that however we need to be radical taboo breakers. We need to break with the traditions of men as needed so we can pursue a new and living way. We need to seek and keep on seeking Jesus until he reveals his will and plans for us now. Then once he does without hesitation we need to get on it at once and do whatever it is he asks of us. This is what I take from today’s lessons on the women of Samaria. So what do you think am I nuts or am I unto something? Are you ready to be a radical taboo breaker like Jesus? Would be interested in hearing what you all think
Brother Lawrence Damien Cos

1 thought on “Reflections on Radical Jesus the Taboo Breaker

  1. Thanks so much for writing this, i had wondered what the whole issue was with the Samaritans, to the extent that the other Jews wouldn’t even TALK to them! Something about this story struck me awhile ago; can i suggest another taboo that Jesus broke here?

    As i’m sure you know, back then women were thought to be “unclean” when on their monthly flow, and nobody was allowed to touch anything they touched during that time, and if one didn’t know when that was, they couldn’t be touched in case they were unclean. This is why, even in the modern day, a Hasidic Jew wouldn’t even shake my sister’s hand several years ago.

    So not only was Jesus not supposed to touch anything she touches, he even drank (or was willing to drink?) water that she had brought up from the well in her jar! Gasp!

    Here are relevant verses:
    Leviticus 15:19 – “When a woman has her regular flow of blood, the impurity of her monthly period will last seven days, and anyone who touches her will be unclean till evening. 20 Anything she lies on during her period will be unclean, and anything she sits on will be unclean. 21 Anyone who touches her bed will be unclean; they must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening. 22 Anyone who touches anything she sits on will be unclean; they must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening. 23 Whether it is the bed or anything she was sitting on, when anyone touches it, they will be unclean till evening.”

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