The Woman at the Well

Yesterday, after a vigorous morning hawking Grrrl Scout cookies outside Sam’s Club, I went to the new member orientation/luncheon/class/thing at the Lutheran Church. The new members were mostly ladies and the Church people who were orientating us were all ladies and the Scripture we focused on was Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. The Lutheran ladies love when Jesus talks with women. There was some discussion about how the well woman had been married five times and was a socially marginalized person for various reasons yadda yadda which is true – Jesus reached out to people who were marginalized. He went to some trouble to address women, children, Samaritans, lepers, prostitutes and other not very proper people. When He did talk to the elites, He was usually arguing with them or telling them to give away all their possessions. I’m down with all that – comfort the afflicted and eat the rich. But at the same time, it was a wee bit predictable.

Then, this morning, I was laying in bed drinking coffee, as is my wont, and thinking thoughtsy things and I recalled how, just last night, I was reading On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, one of the treatises Martin Luther wrote in 1520, railing about all the fucked up shit the Romanists were doing and among the many nits he wanted to pick was the whole transubstantiation thing, which, as you probably know was the idea that the bread and wine of the Eucharist literally became the Flesh and Blood of Christ when the Priest called down the Holy Spirit, though they continued to look, taste, smell, feel and in every other way resemble bread and wine. This was a very big deal and people went to the stake for not believing it, which is fuckin’ crazy. Luther’s position was that transubstantiation is, to use a theological term, balderdash. It is not supported by Scripture, doesn’t make a lick o’ sense and none of the laity give a rat’s ass. He made a pretty good logical argument, showing that he was capable of playing that game, dropped in Ockham’s Razor (William of Ockham, English Franciscan friar and theologian, c. 1287 – 1347) and went on to state that it doesn’t really matter. Jesus said “Take, eat, this is my body, given for you” and “Drink, all of you, this is my blood, poured out for you.” (Matthew 26:26-28, paraphrased). He did not go into a big lecture about whether or not the bread and wine were literally, figuratively, actually, metaphorically or otherwise transformed, translated. transubstantiated or in any other way, altered or altared or any of that, because it don’t matter. Luther’s position here is – we don’t know because we don’t need to know.

Ockham’s Razor im das Haus. Don’t make up a buncha shit that don’t need to be made up.

Returning to the woman at the well, which is most of John 4 – – we see that the aforementioned woman didn’t understand what Jesus was talking about. He’s talking about living water and she’s wondering about buckets. She thinks he means indoor plumbing or something. She doesn’t get it. Then they start talking about her marital history and she’s all flabbergasted. She doesn’t know what Jesus means about worshiping the Spirit in spirit, not on a particular mountain or in a specific city and she’s all like “Whaa?” and the disciples show up. And the woman goes back into town and starts yammering at everybody because she doesn’t know what’s happened. She doesn’t know if Jesus is the Messiah – “He cannot be the Messiah, can He?” – or what. None of it makes sense and Jesus doesn’t seem to care.

At this moment, I’d like to digress and relate a story that comes from the Zen Buddhist tradition –

Joshu’s Mu

A monk asked Joshu, “Does a dog have Buddha-nature?”

Joshu said, “Mu.”

See, one of the fundamentals of Buddhism is that all things have Buddha-nature. “Mu” is a negating word, so it seems like Joshu is saying”No”, but he wouldn’t say that. So this exchange has become a koan – a sorta riddle to used as a meditation tool. There’s no “right” answer, but the general consensus is that Joshu was negating the question itself, which makes sense because it is a stupid question. In the context of Zen Buddhism, the goal is to realize one’s own Buddha-nature. Whether or not a dog has it is beside the point and any time spent on it is wasted.

Same thing applies to the overwhelming majority of Christian theology – it just doesn’t fucking matter how many angels can dance on a pinhead or what exactly happens with the bread and wine or the exact physical status of Mary’s hymen or all the other totally nonsensical bullshit that theologians have pondered when they were laying in bed, drinking coffee and thinking thoughtsy things. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with theological musing. Lemme sit out on a rock in the national forest for a while in a state of undress and I’ll happily wonder off into esoteric speculation. After I wrote the post about the Gethsemane episode, I went out to the woods and sat by a river for a while and thought all kindsa shite about Christ’s descent into death and how He might’ve used that time and I’ll most likely write that all up at some point because it was potentially interesting and possibly a productive way of thinking about the presence of Christ in one’s self and the other fools who surround same. But the fact that I had thoughts doesn’t mean that they were in any way “right”. Nor is there any reason for me or you or anybody else to explain anything that Jesus said or did. Attempting to do so is just silly at best and can be much worse -the local public library has a plethora of videotapes of fundamentalist preachers explaining that fossils are lies of the servants of Satan, aka Democrats, and that eyeballs are “proof” that God made everything in the world exactly as it is and it took Him a week, which reinforces the secular notion that Christians are a buncha ignorant hicks who believe in magic because them’s too stupid to understand science.

We don’t need to explain Christianity in scientific terms. Any attempt to explain religion using the language of science is bad for both. Science is science. Religion is religion. The two are not in conflict. The reason they appear to be in conflict is that, several hundred years ago, the same theologians who invented “transubstantiation” made a buncha statements about the natural world, which is in the jurisdiction of science, and then went around threatening to burn any scientists who disagreed with them. Just as we have a wall of separation between church and state, we should have a wall between science and religion, the study of the world and the relationship with God. The Earth revolves around the Sun. God is the proper center of the individual’s devotion. Churchmen demanding adherence to a geocentric ideology was as boneheaded as extending the metaphor to say that God revolves around humans, which is plainly idiotic. (The heliocentric/geocentric kerfuffle might seem like a very old chestnut to pull out, but I have heard plenty of atheists cite it as “proof” that all religion is false – which is part of the reason religion should not stoop to debating that kinda thing.)

Cycling back around, the woman at the well didn’t know what Jesus was talking about or what it meant or who He was. She didn’t understand. But she knew something was up and that’s what she went running to tell everybody. Jesus’ disciples were confused most of the time, constantly doing dumb stuff that Jesus had to fix – cutting off ears and such. Paul’s letters to everybody make it pretty clear he didn’t understand – there’s no distinction between men and women! Women should stop telling me what to do! It’s pretty human to try to make sense of things – and even more human to make up some shit and then defend it to the teeth – but it ain’t always necessary.

When I don’t know something, I have no problem telling my kid “I don’t know.” It’s a perfectly legitimate answer. And it’s the answer we should give about the mechanics of a lotta religious stuff. Or we could say “mu” – that’s also good.

The woman at the well experienced something and she went and told everybody. Hey – this Jesus guy has some interesting shit goin’ on – maybe He’s the Messiah. That’s what she said, more or less. She was impressed by the experience, not by any appeals to bad logic. Me too. I was not convinced by anybody’s arguments – I had an experience. Several of them, actually. And I don’t understand them. I don’t know what God wants me to do, though I’m confident that He wants me to work toward becoming a Pastor in His Lutheran Church at the moment. That could be wrong – I’m sure He’ll set me straight if need be. He’s done it before.

Anyway, I was sittin’ there, in the church basement, drinking coffee, listening to a buncha ladies talk about the woman at the well and my brain went down a different rabbit hole. I volunteered a thought or two, but mostly just let them talk. We’re at a historical moment when letting women talk for a change is probably a good idea.

And I dunno, really.


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