12th Assembly 2009

Bible study expounds on barriers and bias

Members of the Assembly meeting were asked to transport their minds to the Middle East during the first of three Bible studies led by the Rev. Dr Elizabeth Raine and the Rev. Dr John Squires.

Dr Squires and Dr Raine both lecture in New Testament studies at United Theological College in Sydney.

The first Bible study focused on the story in John 4 of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well.

Through a dramatised reading and interpretation Dr Squires and Dr Raine explored the Assembly theme Living Water, Thirsty Land.

Dr Squires invited Assembly members to join in what he termed an imaginative journey as he and Dr Raine re-enacted a different meeting between a Jewish man and a Samaritan woman by a well.

The study reminded members that people interpret biblical passages differently according to their race, background, gender and any number of experiences.

They asked questions of how a Jewish man and a Samaritan woman would interpret differently the common and numerous Old Testament stories of people meeting at a well.

Regarding the John 4 story, Dr Raine urged members not to be quick to judge the Samaritan woman.

“Maybe her going to the well in the middle of the day had nothing to do with that she was an outcast and everything to do with the fact she was thirsty,” she said.

“Maybe she was searching for something that water alone could not quench and Jeshua knew that.”

She reminded Assembly members that the biblical story does not say she was a woman of disrepute. It does say she had been married four times and was living with a man who was not her husband, but all too often it had been interpreted negatively.

The woman is well aware of her place in society, but not scared to challenge Jesus.

“If adultery was the problem, she may not have been married four more times.

“If she was divorced, she was probably barren.

“Nothing that is said about her says that she is a bad woman. Nothing suggests she is an adulterer.

“Jeshua said she was living with a man who was not her husband. It could have been her brother or brother-in-law who has taken her in.”

Dr Squires noted that Jesus addressed the woman with the same word he addressed his mother — with respect.

“He raised her past and present situation but did not shame her,” he said.

Dr Raine said the way people responded to the Samaritan woman’s story did not suggest she was an outcast.

“It suggests a woman brimming with spirit,” she said.

Jesus had offered the woman more than a drink; he offered living water and true life. The woman dropped her water jar and ran to told others of Jesus.

“She didn’t need the jar anymore because she had been filled with something else,” she said.

“What transformed this woman could transform our world.”

The study leaders reminded members that Jesus has the potential to cast aside the perpetuation of hatred that runs from generation to generation.

They also said that the relationship between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well is one of give and take.

“His [Jesus’] insight into her gives her insight into him.

“As water is essential to life, Jesus, the living water, is essential to spiritual life,” Dr Squires said.

Dr Raine said the woman’s actions demonstrated what could happen when we engage in questions about our faith.

“Living water is not just a gift Jesus offers to us, it becomes our gift to others that we encounter on the way,” said Dr Squires.

It is about dialogue and identity.

“When we accept the living water, not only are we changed, but that has the capacity to change others as well,” he said.

Assembly members were asked to reflect on how their traditions and faith history pushed them to perpetuate bias towards others and how the story in John 4 helped them to understand how barriers that separate people might be broken down.

Members of Assembly then learnt a song in Arabic, “U Huboka Rabbi Yasoo” (I love you Lord Jesus), by Gaby Kobrossi from the Bankstown Uniting Church.

The Bible study opened with a song performed by Bankstown Uniting Church youth leader Charles Chocair as a farewell to ex-president the Rev. Gregor Henderson and welcome to the Rev. Alistair Macrae.