Generosity : the Samaritan Woman

Gospel of John #29

Hello Generous ones,

I continue today our study of the Gospel of John. Please subscribe (on the left via the drop down menu) if you’d like to study along with us. You may also scroll through to read the 28 posts before this one, all about the Gospel of John.

Today, we start on John 4 (see text below), which depicts a meeting between Jesus and a Samaritan woman. Our theme concerns guilt vs compassion, and envy vs good will, in spiritual and religious life — and in practical matters of finance.

[Please note, as we have indicated throughout: the Jewish religious leaders in John are portrayed as the enemies of Jesus and the epitome of religious hypocrisy in this Gospel. However, Jesus himself was a Jew. Let us recognize and critique rather than reproducing ethnic stereotypes, and anti-Semitism, that may be embedded in this sacred text.]

In the opening of the chapter,  Jesus is being hunted down by the religious authorities, who are envious because of news that Jesus has baptized a good quantity of new adherents to his sect. The narrator is quick to confirm that this news is a rumor, since Jesus, in fact, performs no baptisms himself. Because Jesus directly harnesses the divine source (as we shall soon discover), i.e. the fountain of Life, it is not his function to perform ritual signs (i.e. baptisms).

Such religious rivalry plays out, subsequently, in the dialogue of Jesus with the Samaritan woman. The Samaritan woman expects religious or ethnic barriers to be upheld; she notes that as a Jew, Jesus would not be expected to share table fellowship (i.e. a drink) with a Samaritan. The Samaritan woman’s caution about this regulation suggests a worldview motivated by customary ethnic and religious rules.

That the dialogue between Jesus and the Samaritan woman takes place at the well of Jacob, an ancestor sacred to both Jews and Samaritans, symbolizes the universal allegiances, common to different religious sects, both Jew and Samaritan. Rather than fighting over religious property rights — i.e., in a competition over whose cult or ancestors are superior –a more generous approach will be to recognize a common source of vitality behind both religious claims. Both Samaritans and Jews draw from a single source: the fountain of Life itself.

Jesus overturns the competitive worldview, fostered by ethnic segregation.  He counters regulations, which restrict the gifts of God, by offering free and inclusive access to the living source itself of abundance:  v. 10:“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water;” and: 13 “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Let’s see now how this idea may be applied in our lives. I will sketch the implications of living within a world of abundance (symbolized by the universally flowing water), rather than a world of scarcity (characterizes by guilt and envy).

Money, so economists say, is ruled by laws of scarcity. Yet, in practical reality, generosity and giving may produce greater wealth than holding back.

The author of the Seven Laws of Money (c.1974), Michael Phillips, notes that compassion produces generosity while guilt does not. As a financial expert, the master-mind behind the Whole Earth Catalogue, and a leader of several foundations (including the Glide Foundation in San Francisco), Phillips has a record of tangible financial success. (For the book, see: Book: Seven Laws of Money). Based on his experience in lending money and in soliciting donations, Phillips underscores the priority of right motivations for giving. If one gives money because of coercing or guilt-tripping, how generous will one feel in doing so? How motivated will one be to participate in the ongoing projects to which one donates? A guilty giver may donate once and never again.

The worldview that underlies guilt is constricted. One endorses the limiting notion that people must be pushed to do good things, against their will; people are thus untrustworthy.  Resources are limited.

By contrast, if one is compassionate, then one finds every way to assist another, whether that entails giving money, material resources, or so-called spiritual gifts (like talent, service, wisdom). One’s underlying worldview, based on compassion, is open and unlimited. One trusts the heart to to give freely out of caring.

In the case of guilt, one experiences fear of punishment or negative consequences; in the case of compassion, one experiences faith in benefits and positive outcomes. A contrast between guilt and compassion thus differentiates a world of scarcity (regulated by fear and coercion) from a world of abundance (regulated by faith and freedom).

Give Generously and Freely!

TEXT (NIV) version Jesus Talks With a Samaritan Woman
4 Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— 2 although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. 3 So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.

4 Now he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Bread Miracles and the connection economy

The Bible delivers wisdom about our human experience, which is accessible even from a non-religious standpoint. In the Gospels, Jesus’s bread miracles symbolize the connection economy, which supports abundance and social enterprise, while Jesus’s temptation shows forth an economy of lack.

wonder-bread-clipart-1.jpgRegime of Fear and Lack 

If sharing your food with a stranger means that your own child will starve, you are forced into a dilemma: no matter your good-will, one person will suffer. An economy, in which the supply of goods is limited, breeds competition.

This economy of lack (and stinginess) is behind the temptation by Satan to Jesus: “Turn this stone into bread.” Jesus (although famished) refuses: “One does not live by bread alone.” (Luke 4:3b-4)

Satan’s regime breeds isolation. The strong-man (or tyrant), alone on his throne,  dominates and snatches all goods for himself.  Everyone pays lip-service to Satan’s appointed tyrant, in fear for their own survival.

“One does not live by bread alone”: God’s kingdom of justice and generosity will not be traded away, for the sake of the individual’s survival at the expense of others.

Satan’s rule may be compared to a pyramid scheme: “If your income is based predominantly on how many people you recruit into the program, not how much product you sell, it’s a pyramid scheme.” (FTC on pyramid schemes) Investors pay into a scheme that produces no tangible benefit, while producing money for the king schemer himself, together with his minions.

Regime of Life: Abundance, Generosity, Justice 

Jesus performs miracles with bread, in service to God’s regime, governed by  abundance, growth, and new possibilities.  This economy,  of compassion and connection, is governed by the principle: your needs are my needs. One’s gifts multiply in being circulated. The supply is unlimited, since creative possibility exhibits the evolutionary impulse of Spirit.

By contrast to a pyramid scheme, a social enterprise will generate new wealth, growth, and prospects for individuals and the community.

Consider Bill Strikland’s Manchester Bidwell –a school that cultivates the vocational and artistic talents of disadvantaged youth and adults in Philadelphia. Art is just as important as utility there. Top notch jazz musicians visit to perform.  In an atmosphere regulated by compassion and generosity, beauty abounds. One of Strikland’s beliefs: “People are born into this world as assets, not liabilities.” : Link to Strikland’s Book

In compassion for a crowd (Mark 6:34), Jesus performs a bread miracle  (Mark 6:41-44), feeding 5000 with just a few fish and loaves. Compassion opens new possibilities in the economy.

Not an isolated tyrant – at Satan’s bidding – Jesus models a divine miracle that may be imitated by all. Jesus instructs (Mark 6:37): “You give them something to eat,” i.e. my abilities are yours. The more who come to the banquet, the more that abounds for everybody.

Take a look at Seth Godin on the economy of stinginess vs. connection:  Seth Godin On Connection Economy