When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?”
John 4:7 (NIV)
One of the things I’ve observed in life is the way human beings see others and then begin to identify self in contrast to others. I see myself in contrast to what others seemingly have, or have not. I see myself in contrast to how others live, where they live, what they look like, how they dress, their social status, their education, their economic status, their popularity, their influence, their dress, and yes, even the color of their skin. If I’m not careful, I can begin to identify myself by what I’m not rather than what I am.
In my journey through John’s biography of Jesus, I’ve been resonating on the theme of identity, and in yesterday’s chapter and today’s chapter there is an interesting contrast between the individuals to whom John chooses to introduce us.
Nicodemus was rich and powerful. The Samaritan woman was not.
Nicodemus was educated. The Samaritan woman was not.
Nicodemus had social standing. The Samaritan woman was an outcast.
Nicodemus was known. The Samaritan woman remains anonymous.
Nicodemus was an influencer. The Samaritan woman was a nobody.
Nicodemus met Jesus at night. The Samaritan woman met Jesus at noon.
It was socially acceptable for Jesus to speak with Nicodemus, but it was socially unacceptable for Jesus to speak with a woman or a Samaritan.
Nicodemus was religiously upright. The Samaritan woman was a sinner.
Nicodemus didn’t get Jesus. The Samaritan woman did.
There is so much happening in the subtext and contrast of these two encounters that I think I could chew on it all day. If I was doing a character study in preparation to portray either of these individuals on stage, I would likely conclude that Nicodemus’ perception of himself was rather haughty given his place in position in contrast with others. It’s hard for me to believe that the poor woman in a patriarchal system, racially outcast, with five failed marriages on her resume would have a particularly positive self-image.
How does my self perception affect my spiritual perception?
I have to confess that my earthly standing is closer to that of Nicodemus. How does that affect my spiritual receptors, my image of self, and my grasp of the divine? At the same time, my life is riddled with failures. I’m regularly reminded that people think I’m an idiot. I’ve even been told by others more religious than me that I am, in fact, going to hell (complete with scriptural references to prove it). What does that do for my self-image and my spiritual perceptions?
In the quiet this morning, my head and my heart are contemplative as they churn on these questions. As I look back on my journey as a follower of Jesus, I recognize that it has been a process of learning who I truly am in relationship to who Jesus truly is. It has been a process of both knowing myself and knowing God, and the two are as mysteriously and intricately interwoven as the circle dance of Father, Son, and Spirit. I can also see that the further I’ve progressed in this journey, the more the contrast with others, which dominated my self-perception for so long, transforms into my growing perception of seeing Jesus in every other person.