Last Sunday the Gospel about Jesus and the Samaritan woman (John 4:5-42) was proclaimed at my parish. (We used the reading from Year A since we have six people entering the church. Other parishes may have used the Year C Gospel, Luke 13:1-9).
This reading overflows with good news that "true worship" is not found in any building or cult but in the hearts of believers who worship God "in Spirit and in Truth."
Sadly, clueless preachers frequently turn this Gospel into bad news, especially for women.
Rather than highlight the Samaritan woman's inspired missionary leadership, preachers too often rant that she was a five-time divorcee before Jesus saved her from a dissolute life of sin.
This is so wrong on so many levels it's hard to know where to begin.
I'm grateful that the deacon preaching at our parish Mass focused on an interpretation favored by New Testament scholar and Immaculate Heart of Mary Sr. Sandra Schneiders. She points to Israel's use of spousal metaphors to describe God's passionate, covenant love for the chosen people. Samaritans had strayed from monotheism and episodically worshipped other gods. Schneiders suggests that Jesus was speaking metaphorically about Samaria's infidelity -- pointing out that Samaria's current "husband" was not a source of living water for the people.
While different scholars have offered numerous interpretations of this puzzling text, there is no real consensus. There are historical contradictions, however, that make taking it at face value a dubious enterprise at best.