Summary: A look at how Jesus treats sinners.
Eastern European Jews in the early 1900s had a very ordered society that was not so different from the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day. Their attitudes toward women were very similar. For them, the world of sacred and scholarly learning belonged only to men. In the movie Yentl, a young, unmarried woman named Yentl (Barbara Streisand) has an insatiable appetite for learning and sacred wisdom. But there is only one way that seems possible to obtain the kind of learning she desires. She leaves home, changes her name, masquerades as an older boy, and gets accepted into a Talmudic academy.
In the beginning of the movie, before she pretends to be a boy, Yentl is in a Jewish outdoor market selecting a book from a book wagon. The bookseller finishes with another customer, then turns to Yentl and says, “You’re in the wrong place, miss. Books for women are over here.” “I’d like to buy this one, please,” Yentl says. The bookseller takes the book from her, saying, “Sacred books are for men!” “Why?” she asks. “It’s the law, that’s why.”
“Where’s it written?” “Never mind where. It’s a law.” “Well, if it’s a law, it must be written somewhere. Maybe in here. I’ll take it.” Yentl grabs for the book, but the bookseller immediately grabs it back. “Miss, do me a favor. Do yourself a favor. Oh, here, a nice picture book. Girls like picture books.” Yentl asks, “What if I told you it’s for my father?” “Why didn’t you say?” responds the bookseller, selling her the book she wanted.
In a later scene, over a game of chess, Yentl tells her father that she envies students of the Talmud. They discuss life and the mysteries of the universe while “I’m learning to tell a herring from a carp!” He tells her that men and women have different obligations “and don’t ask why,” but he finally gives in to Yentl’s requests for another study session. Yentl is happy as she gets a large book from a well-stocked bookshelf. The father tells her to close the shutters. As she’s closing them she asks, “If you don’t have to hide studying from God, then why from the neighbors?” “Why? Because I trust God will understand. I’m not so sure about the neighbors.”
In the Scripture we are looking at today, we have another woman who has an interest in knowing about spiritual things. And she too is living in a culture that does not place a high value on women — especially the kind of woman she was. She has had several failed marriages, and now she is living with a man. She is also of a race and culture which was despised by Jews. She is not only scorned by Jews, as a woman and a Samaritan, she is despised by her own people. She is an outcast in a society of outcasts.
Jesus scandalizes his disciples time and again in this story. First, John tells us that unlike all other Jews, Jesus is willing to travel through Samaria. Any good Jew would consider themselves to be contaminated just by entering the outer territory of Samaria. So instead of taking the short route to and from Jerusalem, they would take the longer and more arduous road which went around Samaria. They would have to go through a ritual of spiritual purification if they went into Samaria, or even entered a non-Jewish home. But Jesus travels into Samaria and sits by a well, after he tells his disciples to go to the nearest village and buy something to eat. This must have been a disgusting task to them. They actually had to interact with Gentiles, non-Jews — people they considered to be spiritual dogs. And to eat food that Samaritans had prepared, or merely touched, would have been repulsive. And then, Jesus talks to a woman, and not just any woman, a sinful woman — a woman whose own people did not want to be around her. If the religious leaders of Jerusalem had known about this, they would have had gone into spasms.
It is about noon, the hot part of the day when Samaritans did not work or do things like carry water. It is unusual for a woman to come and draw water at this time of day. But it is intentional. The other women of the village despise her and attack her verbally when they see her, so she comes when she thinks no one else will be around. Jesus begins the conversation politely: “Please give me a drink.” He has nothing with which he can draw water from the well on his own. The woman is amazed that anyone would speak to her, let alone in a kind way, especially a Jew. And, because the disciples have gone to buy food, the two of them are alone, which adds to the scandal and tension of the moment. The woman was surprised, for Jews refused to have anything to do with Samaritans. So she said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?” A religious Jew would never drink from the same vessel as a Samaritan, no matter how thirsty they were. The whole scenario was beyond the woman’s comprehension. Jesus had broken every rule of conduct that either of their cultures went by.