Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.
‘Blue Water Hole’
John's Gospel gives us another meeting of minds. Last week it was Nicodemus and Jesus. Today, Jesus encounters an unnamed woman at Jacob's Well in Samaria. As with the story from last week, it seems a wise approach to see this as a respectful and spiritual encounter -
Our printed liturgies feature an artwork by Rosella Namok, an Aboriginal painter and printmaker from Lockhart River in Queensland. She is a member of a group of young artists known as the Lockhart River Art Gang. At just 35, she has held more than 25 solo exhibitions in Australia and overseas. It's not hard to see why. Namok's work is stunning. Her water hole image -
An artist whose work evinces deep respect for tradition, Namok describes herself as a "modern artist". Her subjects are mindscapes of her own making, micro-
Namok works on canvases that are laid out on the ground, using techniques which draw on both Western contemporary art and Indigenous art practice. "I like to use my fingers when I paint," Namok says. The artist learned body painting from her father who was the painter of dancers' bodies for traditional tribal ceremony at Lockhart River. As a child, she often helped him to do this, smearing Clay onto the body and working it with the fingers to create the appropriate designs. In Namok's work is seen both decorative finger-
Namok's totem is the Rosella. The subject is one that she does not paint. Her mother is from Torres Strait Island, whose country is unfamiliar and to which she has little connection. Her mother died earlier in her life. She has four brothers and one sister. The artist's language group is Aankum.
Sometimes Namok chooses to paint subjects unrelated to topics of ceremony, which instead describe personal aspects of her life at Lockhart. She says: "I love to paint things that make me happy, like going camping and fishing ... It's always good when it starts to rain ... it stings your face and stirs up the fish ..."
I offer these glimpses of the artist and her work as notes made in curiosity and in admiration. I find the work absolutely beautiful, and respect the hands, heart, mind and spirit of the artist as someone very like and very unlike me. History and geography, religion and politics have kept us at arm's length. Art and humanity, land/water and Spirit offer (still) a shaking hand, a loving embrace.
Namok's work recalls me to attend to Aboriginal and Islander experience/witness, and to be thankful for a Uniting Church committed to a covenant between First and Second peoples. Not as something in addition to the Gospel, but something intrinsic to the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Today's reading is a model in reconciliation.
Samaria was a northern territory many Judeans regarded a land of infidels. It had suffered invasion and demoralisation at the hands of the Assyrians and Babylonians before the time of Roman occupation. This history meant intermarriage and cultural change, separation from southern culture and religion -
When Jesus approaches the woman and asks her for a drink, he is enacting some kind of desire to overcome profound estrangement -
It is, then, more properly Rachel's well, situated on land of her birth. Jacob, like Jesus, was a stranger there.
The Midrash portrays Rachel as a prophet and redeemer of Israel. There are several midrashim where she intervenes with God to have Israel's sins absolved. She pleads with God and weeps for her children to return. When Jesus sees the unnamed Samaritan woman coming to draw water, is he seeing Rachel, coming with her sheep? Is he seeing Rachel the Redeemer? Do his words about the harvest have to do with the redemption of Rachel's children -
In summary, their banter is playful (it goes on a bit) but seriously political-
Perhaps this accounts for the sensitivity to heartbreak and personal connection (we should always be wary of attributing to Jesus the power to read minds or know what is not humanly possible). Jesus reveals his true identity to the woman, and in doing so, her own identity evolves. He is engaging (vulnerable, resourceful, respectful) just as you or I might engage.
And just as you or I -
The woman is certainly not meek or naive, and reports of her status as an outcast seem exaggerated. She is strong, independent, creative, erudite. When she returns to tell others in Sychar about her encounter with Jesus -
Rosella Namok is one of Australia's most sought-
I'm not wanting to draw a tight connection here, but rather to keep open a positive faithfulness to the Gospel. It's not that Namok should be made to play the role of the Samaritan evangelist, but that we might remain, with Jesus, open to life-
In the Spirit of truth, then, let us offer this Reconciliation Prayer ... Amen.