The power of mutual recognition
Participating in mission and practicing discipleship
requires us to fully see others By HyeRan Kim-Cragg
Read: John 4: 1-42
The story of the encounter between
Jesus and the woman of Samaria is
only found in the Gospel of John.
This story is also unique because it is
the longest conversation Jesus has in
the Bible. John tells the story vividly
and dramatically, and touches on
important theological matters, such
as the places we should worship and
with whom we worship. It also encom-passes important life issues, such as
the need for water, the experience of
thirst, relationships between life partners, and differences in gender, race,
culture, and religion.
As the encounter with the Samaritan
unfolds, Jesus’s mission is changed and
extended to the Gentiles. The woman
of Samaria is remembered as the one to
whom Jesus first revealed his identity
as Messiah. She is also remembered as
the first person (a Gentile woman no
less) who gave testimony to Jesus’ identity. This makes her the first evangelist,
and the first woman theologian. Most
of all, she is an exemplary disciple.
In order to understand how such
remarkable life-changing growth
could have occurred in this woman,
we must note the powerful and
mutual recognition between her and
Jesus. Indeed, the role of seeing is one
of the most pervasive themes in the
Gospel of John (1:48-50, 2: 24.)
John 4: 16-19. Read as if it were a real
Try not to interpret the meaning of the
passage right away. Instead, discuss
• What is going on here?
• What did the woman see in Jesus?
• What did Jesus see in her?
It is no secret that Jews and Samaritans were enemies (John 4: 9.) Their
hostile relationships go back when
Assyria invaded Samaria and chased
away Israelites living there ( 2 Kings
17: 6.) In 300 Before the Common Era
(BCE) the relationship got worse when
Samaritans (northern Israelites who
remained) built the shrine at Mount
Gerizim in competition with the
Temple in Jerusalem. The shrine was
destroyed in 128 BCE.
Aware of this history and the bad
blood that still existed, Jesus ventured
into Samaria where he encountered
this woman at the well drawing water.
This encounter was scandalous. As a
man, and a Rabbi, Jesus was not supposed to engage publicly in conversation with any woman. As a Jew, he was
not supposed to talk to Samaritans.
And yet he not only engages with this
woman, but does so in a way that is
both intimate and tactile.
The exchange exposes each individual’s vulnerability to physical and emotional needs. Jesus reveals that is tired
and thirsty. The woman is exposed as
having had a series of fleeting relationships. Both heard each other’s voices.
In her book, In a Different Voice:
Psychological Theory and Women’s
Development (Harvard University
Press, 1982), Carol Gilligan writes that
it is shocking to discover that theories
of human development up until the
‘70s were constructed without the
input of women, people of colour,
gays, or lesbians. These groups were
completely ignored, yet the theory has
been treated as objective, fair, neutral,
even universal. The recognition of one
group happened at the expense of not
In contrast, mutual recognition took
place between Jesus and the woman
of Samaria. This power of recognition
broke socially oppressive and culturally
sanctioned boundaries. And when that
happened, human dignity and human
goodness were restored. When Jesus
recognized the woman of Samaria, her
despised gender, her rejected race, and
her dubious moral character were no
longer important. His recognition also
revealed the violence that had dehumanized this woman.
The woman, in turn, recognized
Jesus not as a prejudiced Jewish man,
but as a prophet, which later led her
to recognize him as the Messiah. Her
gradual recognition of Jesus demonstrates maturity, which enabled her to
tackle theologically challenging questions. Biblical scholar Gail O’Day says
that this woman is the first character
in the Gospel to engage in serious,
theological conversation with Jesus.
John 4: 29, 39. Read loudly.
• In what way is our mission still
based on a lack of recognition?
• In what ways could discipleship
lead to the transformative recognition as the woman shows us?
Post-colonial pastoral theologian
Melinda Sharp says that colonialism is an oppressive system of nonrecognition. It is structural forgetting,
as if certain people (the colonized)
did not exist. There is evidence of this
in our recent history; one example is
the residential school system. Those