Tory Baucum, Ashley Null, and Tom Wright. Andrew Atherstone and Andrew Goddard, eds. Good Disagreement?: Grace and Truth in a Divided Church, (Lion Hudson, 2016), p. 171–193
Truro Anglican Church is a large charismatic congregation in Fairfax, Virginia, near Washington, DC. In 2006 it separated from the Episcopal Church and is now part of the Anglican Church in North America, a parallel and more theologically conservative province. The separation came in the midst of acrimonious disagreements and led to lengthy litigation with the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, which claimed control of Truro’s property. But under its new rector, Tory Baucum, the congregation has pioneered bridge-building with former enemies, both inside and outside the church. This chapter, an extended reflection upon Jesus’ mission to the Samaritan woman at the well, is an apologia for Truro’s peacemaking ministry.
Truro Parish sits on the border of the northern and southern parts of the United States, thirteen miles south of the nation’s capital. Its geographic setting has undoubtedly influenced its history of peacemaking, often amidst seismic national conflict. Our congregation has found itself positioned between warring parties, learning to follow Jesus between the proverbial “rock and a hard place”. In recent years, our discipleship has taken particular inspiration from Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4. This is a timely biblical tradition because Truro has had several “Samaritan moments” in its history. For example, the first land skirmish of the Civil War happened on our front lawn, at the corner of North Street and Main Street in Fairfax. When the first Confederate soldier killed in the war was shot a stone’s throw from Truro (then Zion Church), his body was brought into the parlour of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Moore. Perhaps they helped add reconciliation to Truro’s DNA, as Mrs. Moore was from New York, married to a Virginia Confederate. It was noteworthy that Thomas Moore was a member of Truro and a faithful Episcopalian, although Anglicans had put his grandfather Jeremiah in jail in Alexandria, near Washington, DC, for “preaching the gospel without a license” (that is, planting the First Baptist Church in Alexandria). Jeremiah had been an Episcopal lay reader but had a conversion experience at a Baptist meeting (something normally frowned upon). Jailed yet undeterred, he preached to his congregants through the window. Thomas Jefferson spoke out in his defence and later codified a legal solution into the Virginia constitution.
Unlike Jeremiah Moore I am conflict-averse. But I am not conflict avoidant, in part because God is teaching us that the road to reconciliation—the art of peacemaking—passes through, not around, conflict. Furthermore, the path of peace is a biblical and ecclesial trodden path. And it is one we are learning to walk with Jesus as we take the whole Bible more seriously, learning to read the various parts in terms of the whole symphony of biblical revelation and its reception in the history of the church. As such, this chapter is both a witness to our peacemaking and the biblical hermeneutic that powers and informs it. It accords well with what Matthew Levering calls “participatory exegesis”, a mode of biblical interpretation that is founded on three steps:
Reclaiming history as a participatory rather than merely linear reality; understanding biblical exegesis as an ecclesial participation in God the Teacher; and renewing our sense of how the Church’s wisdom-practices . . . distinguish multilayered and embodied exegesis from the idolatrous distortions of eisegesis.
It illustrates how we are learning to read one part (John 4) in terms of the whole (Genesis to Revelation)—a narrative arc that begins and ends with a wedding in a garden—with an eye towards missionary engagement. Specifically, it is an attempt to understand Jesus’ journey to the Samaritan—the “poster child” heretic of his day—
in terms of the nuptial character of the Christian mission
The Jews of Jesus’ day normally went around Samaria, rather than through it. John bluntly reminds the reader of the reason for the Samaritan woman’s cool encounter with Jesus: “For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” (John 4:9; ESV). A cursory reading of the Old Testament reveals that Jesus and the woman at the well inherited a chequered history. Their respective ancestors from the northern and southern tribes of Israel were characterized by taking advantage of the other’s alternating vulnerabilities. Occasionally they would show mercy to each other, but that was the exception rather than the rule. Jesus crafted his memorable parable of the good Samaritan around one of those exceptions in salvation history (see 2 Chronicles 28:8–15 and Luke 10:25–37), in which Jesus teaches his disciples (including us) how to faithfully navigate their own complex history in order to engage “the other”.
There are other reasons Jews avoided Samaritans. Most important among them, Samaritans had intermarried pagans during the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles. Outside of Israel, Samaritans were seen as Jews. But inside the boundaries of Israel, they were viewed at best as apostate Jews and at worst as out-and-out pagans. They were the quintessential “heretics” of Jesus’ day. And there were good reasons for seeing them so. Samaritans effectively altered the three pillars of Jewish faith and practice. They customized their own:
- Torah—Samaritan Pentateuch edited according to
- Temple—Gerizim vs Jerusalem as the site of divine encounter
- Territory—Samaria vs Judah as the privileged land of promise.
Jesus and the Samaritan woman carried this history into their encounter, and it seriously impeded their ability to communicate and relate to one another. Despite this difficulty, it is fascinating to look at how Jesus affirms yet also critiques each of these Jewish-cum-Samaritan pillars. In other words, Jesus does not treat the Samaritan woman as though she is living in a complete zone of darkness, devoid of God’s revelation and grace. Rather he enters her Territory as part of God’s good (but damaged) creation. He then discusses the Temple and suggests it has fulfilled its purpose in salvation history (which he had prophetically portrayed in John 2). He quotes and embodies the Torah in his own life and work (both in John 4 and throughout the entirety of the Gospel). We witness both affirmation and critique in Jesus’ encounter with the woman. Despite this divisive history characterized by severe religious disputes, none of which Jesus papers over, they still share much in common. Jesus the peacemaker seeks to discover and traverse those commonalities. Jesus demonstrates that adversaries require common ground in order to overcome enmity; and that there is an underlying unity greater and more powerful than the conflict. And he is that unity.
We will explore this greater unity in the three moments of peace that lead to reconciliation. We will take them in the order they occur in our story. Each moment centres upon an image or sign that points beyond itself to the greater reality of reconciliation. The logic of these images of peace—gift, reciprocity, and fruitfulness—is, in fact, the logic of the gospel. As revealed in John’s nuptial drama, they help orient both the church’s interpretation of the text and its ongoing interaction with past and modern day “Samaritans”. This Samaritan history is not simply prologue. It’s not even past. It is a very real and present opportunity for mission. And mission follows the pathway
First Moment: At The Well—Peace As Gift
There is much more happening in John 4 than an intra-faith or interfaith dialogue. We have before us a classic “well scene”, which should trigger the biblical imagination to remember the stories of Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, all of whom wooed women at the well (see Genesis 24, where Abraham’s servant acts as Isaac’s proxy in wooing Rebekah; Genesis 29; Exodus 2:15–22). The Jewish literary scholar Robert Alter has identified these as “type scenes”: whenever a man and woman are at a well, the biblical narrative is priming us to see a nuptial drama. The scenes have four main moments:
- The man journeys (usually from another region) to a well where he meets a local woman.
- A conversation ensues, whereupon water is drawn from the well.
- The woman departs to tell her friends and family about the man she has met.
- The marriage is consummated, usually after a shared meal.
Three of the four moments clearly appear in John 4, and I will suggest that the fourth also occurs but is elusive and deferred until later in the Gospel. Jesus has already been called “the bridegroom” (John 3:29), raising the question, “Who is the bride?” Given the chequered history between Jews and Samaritans (southerners and northerners, respectively), it is remarkable that Jesus goes to Samaria, locates the well of Jacob, sits, and strikes up a conversation with a local woman. It is the longest and most detailed narrative of symbolic betrothal in the Bible (excluding, possibly, the Book of Revelation). And, surprisingly, the bride is personified as the most ineligible of brides: a Samaritan who has a most unpromising résumé when it comes to marriage. She is clearly “damaged goods”. One could even say she is “Samaria incarnate”, divorced from her covenantal people and excluded in shame. Samaria itself is embodied in her multiple alienations.
So we see that the story not only sets up an ethnic and religious barrier (a Samaritan) but also a moral one (a multiple-divorcée). It would seem that this is a clear case of “three strikes and you are out”. But not so with Jesus. John gives the most extensive portrayal of a marriage proposal to the least likely marriage prospect. This is consistent with John’s use of signs: they are both elusive and paradoxical. These signs make you pause and reflect on what is really being said. There is always more here than meets the eye—both within John’s narrative and with Jesus.
So what is the nature of the betrothal in John 4? The betrothal at stake is a spiritual one. It is an invitation into the new covenant, which transcends all marriage but to which marriage itself points and in some mysterious manner participates (see Ephesians 5:21–33). It is that which the prophets of Israel promised: the time when the Lord purifies his people from idolatry and betroths her to himself. Hosea, a prophet from the Northern Kingdom of Samaria, spoke:
And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me “My Husband”, and no longer will you call me “My Baal”. For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more . . . And I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord. (Hosea 2:16–17, 19–20; ESV)
The “now” that Jesus speaks to the woman is the (partial) fulfillment of this promise of Hosea: “But the hour is coming and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” (John 4:23; ESV) But John gives us more than the “what” of reconciliation. He actually portrays the means of reconciliation. Jesus is not only the truth the woman seeks but also the grace of how to receive the truth. This should not surprise us. In John’s prologue, Jesus is portrayed as both God’s grace and his truth. In the work of peacemaking, grace and truth are not opposed, especially if we follow the biblical order: grace before truth (John 1:14). We see that order on display in this betrothal scene. Jesus woos her, slowly and gently revealing the truth about each other. Jesus does not overpower her. Any biblically informed notion of sovereignty will never violate God’s nature of loving respect for his bride. In other words, God does not overpower us with the truth. He gently and kindly woos us.
So Jesus, God incarnate, goes to Samaria and sits at Jacob’s Well. Then Samaria incarnate—divorced and estranged from her covenanted people—sits next to him. What does the well represent? A common history? Yes. A common ancestor? That, too. Jacob is a patriarch of both Judah and Israel, of both Jews and Samaritans. Indeed the well is located in the land of Samaria, which historically was the land of the Northern Kingdom, Israel. It is a natural bridge between an estranged people—and given the well’s role in previous nuptial dramas, Jesus deliberately chooses that location to reach across the divide.
St Francis in Damietta: Thirteenth-Century Samaria
There are numerous “Jacob’s Wells” in the history of the church—meeting places where warring sides attempt to make peace. One of the most important occurred during the fifth Crusade. In the autumn of 1219, Francis of Assisi travelled to Damietta in Egypt to share the gospel with the Sultan al-Kamal. Based on the slender evidence available, it seems that Francis disapproved of the Crusade but used it as an opportunity to wage another kind of warfare against Islam. He went with the crusading soldiers to Egypt but without sword or shield. He fought differently. He sought common ground with the sultan as a beginning point, not an end, and he used it to proclaim the message of salvation. A great biographer of Francis captures this historic moment in Francis’s interior dialogue:
What can we do to strengthen the columns of the Church? We cannot fight against the Saracens because we have no arms. Furthermore, what would be gained by fighting? We cannot fight the heretics because we lack dialectic reasoning and intellectual preparation. All we can offer are the arms of the insignificant, that is: love, poverty and peace. What can we do to serve the Church? Only this: to live literally by the Gospel of the Lord.
The sultan was intrigued by Francis and engaged him in dialogue for a few days. He was drawn to Francis’s sincerity and holiness. Unconvinced and unconverted, the sultan released Francis and the brothers who accompanied him unharmed. Francis clearly saw Muslims as religious heretics who should convert, but he also loved them enough to risk his life to proclaim the gospel to them in person. Damietta was thirteenth-century Samaria, and the “Saracens” were thirteenth-century Samaritans. Francis participated, consciously or not, in Jesus’ mission to woo them by reaching out in peace.
The Tenth Anniversary of 9/11 and Truro’s “Samaritan Moment”
The 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 were not “theoretical” for our congregation. One of the hijacked planes ploughed into the Pentagon, where a number of our parishioners worked. Though no Truro member lost their life in the attack, we did lose friends. So when I was approached to host a peacemaking meeting for the tenth anniversary of the attacks, I brought it before the whole vestry for discernment. After much prayerful deliberation, we decided to accept the invitation and partnered with Calvin College and the Berkley Center and hosted an evening conversation with Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Each religion had a representative explain the resources of peace in their traditions. Then they took the next step of explaining how their respective traditions are often co-opted for intolerance and even violence. The structure, which we helped shape, was familiar. We situated the talks and conversation around a meal, much like we do every Friday night in our Alpha course. Truro knows how to do “hospitality-based evangelism”. And, just as we often experience in Alpha, we made friends for Jesus by being friends. In the process, we became friends with local Muslims, a friendship that continues with the local Turkish mosque. Just as on Alpha, we did not paper over differences but instead we provided a venue—a “Jacob’s Well”—where commonalities and differences could be explored and discussed in the context of affection and respect.
Friendship has surprises. The following year, members of the mosque studied the book of Romans with us, attending a weekend conference with Bible scholar Ben Witherington. The court trial that determined ownership of church property went through several iterations. When we lost the third and final court case in 2012, one of the first calls I received was from Bilal Ankaya, the local imam, inviting us to share his mosque. When I shared the news with the congregation, there was an audible gasp of surprise followed by applause. So what are we learning? Peacemaking begins with the gift you make of yourself to the other. It is a liminal—a boundary crossing—experience where room for dialogue is made at the expense of retaliation. Finding a “well” of common humanity and shared history is the pathway to peace.
Second Moment: Conversing Over Water—Peace As Reciprocity
All reconciled people begin by finding common ground. But what if something we thought was common turns out, on closer inspection, to be part of the division? For example, some claim that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, but what if our understanding of God is so different that under closer scrutiny this proposition is shown to be untrue? As monotheists, we both say we believe in one God, but Christians also believe in Jesus as the eternal Son of the Father, so to what extent is our agreement in “the unity of God” meaningful? We won’t know the answer to that question unless we begin a conversation, a dialogue to clarify our terms and premises. Jesus and the Samaritan woman found something in common—a common design as male and female, bridegroom and bride—at Jacob’s Well. But what brought them to the well was not merely their common history. There was more. They shared a common desire: they thirsted. Just as Jesus initiates problematic contact at the well, he initiates a conversation that is laced with misunderstanding and danger. We see both in the woman’s response to his request for a drink: “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (John 4:9; ESV) In this one gesture, Jesus throws a bridge over two chasms simultaneously:
- The religious chasm that existed between the Jew and the Samaritan, the orthodox and the heterodox, the devout and the deviant believer. In this chasm, Jesus inserts three moments of truth: true desire, true confession, and true revelation. Each moment of truth progressively leads to the next.
- The gender chasm that existed between men and women since the Fall. Here we come to the fourth and final moment of truth: the goal of true peacemaking (which will be discussed under the “Third moment” below).
Jesus’ request for water is really a humble invitation that makes the conversation possible. With these words, “Give me a drink”, he is putting himself in the position of a recipient. He is asking the woman for help and, by doing so, he is restoring her agency. Much like when Jesus commandeered Peter’s boat and transformed it into a pulpit for the crowds that had pressed upon him on the shore of Galilee
(Luke 5:1–11), Jesus again takes the humble way with a would-be disciple. He says to someone who does not yet believe, “Will you help me?” Humility is a proven pathway to receptivity. And without receptivity, there is no reciprocity. Antagonists remain frozen in their own moral sterility.
The first “moment of truth” is true desire. Jesus ups the ante and offers the woman “living water”, so we begin to see that the water in the well is an object lesson for something greater. This offer initiates the substantial bulk of their dialogue and points to their common desire. Jesus is not referring to water from a different source but an altogether different kind of water—water that can be had without a ladle. This is a critical moment in the conversation, for Jesus reveals his desire to give her life. Noticing Jesus’ paradoxical behaviour, Augustine of Hippo asks, “The One who asked to drink is indeed the giver of water. Why did He ask to drink, then?” Augustine’s answer: Jesus was thirsty indeed—but thirsty more for the woman’s faith than her water. He was thirsty for quenching her thirst, through the gradual revelation of himself. He continues, “His ‘drink’ was to do the will of him that sent him. That was why he said, ‘I thirst; give me to drink’, namely, to work faith in her and to drink of her faith and transplant her into his body, for his body is the church.”  The second “moment of truth” is true confession. Jesus tells her to bring her husband. She says she has no husband, which is accurate but not the whole truth. Jesus, still in wooing mode, challenges her to be more transparent and supplies the left-out information that she has had five husbands and her current partner is not her husband (John 4:18). So she has had six men, and the seventh man—the perfect man—is now wooing her. Jesus does not ignore her disordered and sinful lifestyle, but pinpoints it and calls her to something better. Here the nuptial nature of this drama is made explicit. She is ineligible for marriage in the natural order (which hasn’t worked out very well for her), but she is highly eligible for the marriage Jesus
This brings us to the third “moment of truth”, true revelation—the truth about Jesus’ own identity. All through the narrative there has been a “growth in Christology”, as the woman slowly begins to see who Jesus really is. First she calls him “a Jew” (verse 9), then the more neutral “Sir” (verses 11, 15), then “a prophet” (verse 19). Finally she says, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes he will tell us all things”, and Jesus replies, “I who speak to you am he” (verses 25–26). Some scholars believe this is the first of several “ego eimi” (“I am”) sayings in John’s Gospel, a formulation which indicates the personal presence of God. The woman has kept Jesus, through various titles—Jew, Sir, Prophet, and Messiah—at a distance. Each title preserves a safe I–It, subject– object relationship. But, with this final and most personal revelation of Jesus, they now have the potential for an I–Thou, subject–to–subject, person–to–person, relationship.
What Jesus models throughout this whole conversation—allowing himself to be named, gradually revealing the true nature of his interlocutor, and slowly unveiling his own identity—is the reciprocity of betrothal. There is a faithful exchange of ideals and desires, however tentative at first, leading to insight and trust, which results in revelation. What do we learn from this exchange? The way out of relationship is also the way back in. When trust has been broken, so has relationship. Jesus restores the relationship by first restoring the trust! This is the logic of reconciliation: trust is restored before relationship. It is a most precious and fragile moment of peacemaking. And in this moment we begin to see its true nature. Peacemaking is neither making nice nor even the cohabitation of differences. That is cheap and essentially pagan behaviour (see Matthew 5:46–47). Biblical peacemaking, on the other hand, is giving life, restoring relationship, to our adversary.
St Francis de Sales in Geneva: Seventeenth-Century Samaria
There are notable moments when the church was as divided and estranged as the Jews and the Samaritans and as Jesus was with the Samaritan woman. And there are many examples of Christian disagreement that split the church at its deepest levels. But there are also notable exceptions and counter pressures. There are those moments when Christian leaders, inspired and inhabited by Jesus, follow the path of reciprocity—of a kind of dialogue that demonstrates both grace and truth and, most importantly, grace before truth.
St Francis shows us the way—the way of building a bridge of grace that bears the weight of truth. This time, it is not St Francis of Assisi, but rather St Francis de Sales, missionary Bishop of Geneva from 1602, who models this second moment of peace. De Sales was banned from his episcopal see city, as were all Roman Catholics, yet he made several forays into Geneva to meet and converse with Theodore Beza, John Calvin’s successor. Beza was a major Reformed theologian, widely reviled in Roman Catholic circles, and senior to de Sales by almost half a century. What made de Sales able to meet with this Protestant “heretic” and, more importantly, what steeled him to stand against the adverse opinion of his own church when he did so? We need to make a quick foray into the Wars of Religion to answer that question, but it is worth the detour.
The seventeenth century was the hinge century between the medieval and modern worlds, a time of great violence motivated especially by religious intolerance arising both from the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation. Two modern fixtures came from this century of religious feuding—the Enlightenment and ecumenical peacemaking. The former was exemplified by René Descartes and his programme of doubt; the latter by Francis de Sales and his programme of love. Both were responses to the Wars of Religion. Descartes sought to insulate society from religiously motivated violence by annexing all of its truth claims to the realm of private opinion. As a mathematician, he made use of mathematical precision and public demonstration as a criterion for truth claims. De Sales also sought to insulate society from religious violence but by changing the heart of religious opponents toward each other. Obviously, we Westerners are much more the children of Descartes than we are of de Sales. Most of us are Cartesians; few are Salesians.
In his first sermon as a missionary priest in Geneva, de Sales pledged himself to a strategy of love: The walls of Geneva must be broken down by charity and it is by charity that we must invade this city and recover it… Let our camp not be one of war but let it be God’s camp where the trumpets ring out loud and clear: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts… It is by our own hunger and thirst, not by that of a beleaguered enemy that we must repel our adversaries.
When de Sales became bishop, he augmented his strategy of love with two tactics. First, he would only ordain priests he was convinced loved Protestants. Second, in discussions with Protestants, he would only use the authorities they believed in. Thus he argued only from Scripture and the Church Fathers, never from Thomist scholasticism. But his chief strategy was always to love the opponent. He wrote: “Whoever preaches with love preaches adequately against heretics, even if he doesn’t bring out a single word of argument directed against them.” His confidence in the love of God—the love which creates and sustains the world, and above all honours everybody’s free choice to love or refuse love—was the driving motive for reaching out to Theodore Beza. In one of their meetings, de Sales asked Beza if he believed Roman Catholics could be saved. Beza, after a fifteen minute pause, answered, “Yes, I do.” Their relationship moved haltingly from I–It to I–Thou. They began to engage each other as estranged brothers rather than merely ecclesiastical opponents. Several times, de Sales entered Geneva, at the risk of his own life, to talk to the ageing reformer. What motivated him to befriend and woo the heart of Beza? And just as important, what motivated him to stand nearly alone in the Roman Catholic hierarchy as a friend of Protestants? It was the path of peace which leads to unity and not merely to cohabit with differences.
Befriending An Episcopal Bishop
In March 2011, I finally made the drive to Richmond, Virginia to meet the Episcopal bishop, Shannon Johnston. The meeting was tentative at first. It warmed slightly when I gave him a copy of poetry by Adam Zagajewski. By the end of the meeting Shannon suggested we meet monthly to pray, with no other agenda. I agreed.
Two weeks later, his chancellor, Russ Palmore, died suddenly, unexpectedly and, for Shannon, tragically. I and other leaders of Truro attended the funeral in Richmond. I patted his shoulder on my way out of the church, but we did not speak. Since we had already scheduled our second meeting in order to pray, we met two weeks after the funeral. He spent the first twenty minutes expressing his grief over Russ’s unexpected death. And he took almost as much time expressing gratitude for Truro’s graciousness in attending the funeral. The meeting lasted over two hours. I remember thinking to myself on the drive back to Fairfax: “I not only like this guy but I think we are going to become friends. This is really weird.” Throughout the rest of the year, we maintained our monthly prayer meetings. At the suggestion of my daughter, Isabelle, we started to augment these with conversation over a beer across the street at the Jefferson Hotel. What started as an I–It caricatured relationship between liberal bishop and conservative rector became an I–Thou relationship of trust and affection. In short, adversaries became friends.
In January 2012, Truro lost the third and final round of litigation against the Episcopal diocese. The next Sunday, my friend Canon Andrew White, the “Vicar of Baghdad”, preached to a packed house. The night before he had been with Shannon at a ceremony in Richmond where he was awarded the International First Freedom Award. He began the sermon by explaining his credentials to speak on conflict and peace: “I have buried 273 of my members in the last two years. I know something of conflict.” But, after recalling his dinner with Shannon the night before, he surprised me with these words: “The Episcopal bishop wants to work with you simply because your rector has loved him.” In April our vestry settled with the Episcopal diocese and, shortly afterwards, Shannon gave us an eighteen-month rent-free lease (it has since been extended). Our friendship became public and very controversial. Shannon’s response to the controversy was to clear his calendar and accompany me to the Holy Trinity Brompton leadership conference in London in May 2012, which was followed by an invitation to tell our story at the Faith in Conflict Conference at Coventry Cathedral in February 2013. Even though our witness of peacemaking was vigorously opposed by certain factions within the Anglican Communion, and suffered temporary setbacks, the friendship survived.
What is God teaching us in this moment of peace? Peacemaking extends an I–Thou, nuptial relationship into the field of battle. At its heart, peacemaking is giving life and dignity to your adversary, not simple cohabiting with differences. And dignity follows the pathway of dialogue. This creates the conditions for reconciliation but doesn’t guarantee it. For reconciliation to occur, one must enter the third moment of peace.
Third Moment: The Wedding—Peace As Fruitfulness
I have suggested that the encounter at the well and the dialogue around water connects Jesus and the woman at the point of their common design and common desire. This design as male and female and their thirst (yearning desire) have the makings of a nuptial drama. Up to this point, our story follows the pattern of an Old Testament type scene. The couple meet and converse at the well. Then the woman leaves to tell her people, and she returns to introduce them to her suitor. She came to the well to draw water but instead returns to the city full of desire to communicate to others the wonderful news that fills her to overflowing (John 4:14). When Jesus tells the disciples to pray for harvesters for the fields that are already ripe for harvest, perhaps he is inviting prayer for this new disciple who is returning home to tell her friends about the man “who told me everything I ever did” (verse 29). The Samaritan woman is depicted as an evangelist, one who brings others to meet Jesus, just as Andrew and Philip do in John chapter 1.
But if this is a nuptial drama, where is the wedding? Type scenes are inherently flexible, and John’s symbolism is both elusive and reflexive. Signs in the first half of the Gospel are fulfilled in the second half, but in such a way that we are forced to reconsider what we read earlier. There is a dialectic between the so-called “book of signs” (chapters 1–12) and the “book of glory” (chapters 13–20), which causes us to reconsider what we thought we already “knew”. This dialectic—this looking back and forth between sign and fulfilment in such counter-intuitive ways—is a spiritual pedagogy that induces humility and patience in the disciple, especially as we are recruited into the nuptial mystery of the work of reconciliation. It also keeps us focused on the end: the consummation of our union with our Bridegroom Messiah.
Jesus never got that ladle of water from the woman at the well. In that sense, he remained thirsty until he had finished his Father’s work. There is only one other place in John’s Gospel where Jesus is thirsty “at the sixth hour”—when he was hanging on the cross: “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfil the Scripture), ‘I thirst.'” (John 19:28; ESV) Till the very end, Jesus carried his thirst for us, his bride, and gave himself to us in order to quench his desire. The betrothal introduced in chapter 4 is consummated in chapter 19. Jesus’ passion is the climactic moment of this entire nuptial drama. This is when he gives his body completely and unreservedly for us, his bride. Augustine extols the nuptial nature of the cross with this unforgettable flourish:
Like a bridegroom Christ went forth from his chamber… he came to the marriage bed of the cross and there mounting it, he consummated his marriage. And when he perceived the sighs of the creature, he lovingly gave himself up to the torment in place of his bride and joined himself to her forever.
In such light, we begin to see the work of reconciliation to which we are called. The peacemaking we do to achieve reconciliation is something much more than cohabiting with differences. Rather it is giving life to those with whom we are estranged, resulting in friendship which impacts a wider circle of relationships. This is the goal of peacemaking: restored communion. There is an urgency to invite the lost that supersedes all natural desire and order—even such fundamental desires as hunger and thirst. Everything takes a back seat to this grand preparation for the marriage supper of the Lamb. This is the communion toward which human history strains and to which preachers of the gospel point. Human history is sandwiched between two weddings (Eden and the New Jerusalem), and, like John the Baptist, we herald the bridegroom’s intentions. The prospect of this grand cosmic consummation—symbolized initially by the gesture of untying the sandal strap—is what summons and repairs our repentance (see Ruth 4:7–10; John 1:26–27).
Wesley’s Urban Mission To England: Eighteenth-Century Samaria
Who in church history participates in and exemplifies this third moment of peacemaking—the moment of recognizing and wooing the other into her destiny of common discipleship to Jesus? One would be hard pressed to find a better example than the eighteenth-century Anglican clergyman John Wesley. Wesley was nuptial both in his message (“perfect love” as the defining character of Christians) and ministry (eventually ordaining women as ministers in the movement). Regrettably, the nuptial nature of early Methodism is often overlooked. This oversight is all the more remarkable given Methodism’s romantic nature and genesis in the very class-conscious and masculine age of emerging urbanized, industrialized England. Methodism’s nuptial nature precipitated a revolution in aesthetics (just as it prevented a political revolution in society) by rehumanizing and integrating the marginalized populations of the urban poor. A few forgotten facts remind us of Methodism’s history, especially concerning the inclusion of women in the movement:
- Women exceeded men by a ratio of two to one in the early Methodist societies and bands.
- These small evangelizing and discipling groups were composed of women and sometimes led by women.
- Women were able and encouraged to speak in these public and mixed gender meetings.
- The criteria for such exhortations were effectiveness and gifting, not gender.
- The line between testimony, exhortation, and preaching was not easily drawn. If one was gifted at the first or second, in principle one could continue the path that led to preaching.
In a letter to Mr. John Smith, Wesley stated his rationale for including women in leadership and other modifications to ecclesiastical order:
I would inquire, what is the end of all ecclesiastical order? Is it not to bring souls from the power of Satan to God? And to build them up in His fear and love? Order, then, is so far valuable as it answers these ends; and if it answers them not it is worth nothing… Wherever the knowledge and love of God are, true order will not be wanting. But the most apostolical [sic] order where these are not is less than nothing and vanity.
This sort of quotation from Wesley could be multiplied endlessly. They are normally taken as evidence of his supposed “pragmatism”. That is a superficial reading. Rather, this is evidence for Wesley’s eschatologically driven theology—his thirst for nuptial union with God is the teleological pull which advanced the Wesleyan mission.
Ecclesiastical order possesses a penultimate value in Wesley’s hierarchy of goods and must always serve the ultimate value of God’s thirst for his bride—the personal knowledge of God’s love that transforms people and their communities. Wesley pointed to this often as the chief goal of the Methodist movement. The grand objective was a nuptial life in God experienced as “an intimate, an uninterrupted union with God, a constant communion with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ, through the Spirit; a continual enjoyment of the Three-One God, and of all the creatures in Him”. This nuptial vision created in eighteenth-century urban England an almost unparalleled partnership of the sexes, not seen since Assisi, Galilee, and Eden.
Truro’s “Samaria” Vision
Since Jeremiah and Thomas Moore’s experience of battling for human dignity (which the gospel restores) during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars respectively, Truro has had other “Samaritan moments” of crossing ideological boundaries to bear witness to Jesus. For example, during the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s, although the parish itself was divided about the question, Ed Pritchard, a great lay leader of Truro, crossed a very public and controversial boundary against Virginia segregationists on behalf of African Americans. This fortified him for the equally unpopular stand he took for the charismatic movement in the 1970s. No force in American history has been as racially integrating and healing as that of the Pentecostal/ charismatic renewal of the church. Truro would not be the Truro it is today if Ed Pritchard had not taken both journeys into “Samaria”. With the advent of the charismatic movement, the parish began to experience what the Civil War and Civil Rights movements could never accomplish: Truro began to integrate, not from legislative mandate but from a freeing of the heart by the Holy Spirit. Why do I begin and end this chapter with Truro’s long history of making peace? In part, to put the parish’s current journey in “Samaria” into its larger participatory history. Truro has a time-tested tradition of crossing the border into Samaria; our historic campus is a virtual “Jacob’s Well”
In 2008, we discerned a new vision statement for our parish: “Radical Hospitality”. We believed it was a provisional statement, something God would use to prepare us for the more radical and long-term plans he had for us. Shortly before the publication of that “191 Ministry in Samaria: Peacemaking at Truro Church” statement, a couple approached us about providing a meeting place for homeless worshippers. It started in their home but outgrew it and they needed both a regular place to meet and help feeding the numbers who attended, often over 100. Truro’s vestry discerned God was inviting us to live this vision we had claimed came from him. Hosting and ministering with a homeless congregation is certainly “radical hospitality”. Over the next six years, our congregation cooked hundreds of meals, drove vans full of homeless seekers to the service, prayed for them and with them in healing prayer, and even joined the local Coptic church in opening a medical clinic for their care. We made room in our midst because God made room in our hearts. During that time, we lost ownership of our building and, although we are still residing there, we believe our homeless brothers and sisters taught us to hold our property lightly. They taught us that our spiritual home transcends these beautiful colonial brick buildings and that we can continue to thrive without them.
Now we are concluding a discernment process around a new vision. This vision is likely to be intergenerational in reach and will take Truro through much of the twenty-first century. We believe God is calling us to a renewed commitment to love as he loves: Freely (Gift), Fully (Reciprocity), and Fruitfully. This is the love that creates new life. It is also the love that turns adversaries into friends. It is God’s nuptial love. Just as the provisional vision statement of 2008 opened doors, new opportunities have come to us that appear to be God’s invitation to step into this vision. Along with a dear Roman Catholic mentor, Don Renzo Bonetti, we have been invited to speak at the World Meeting of the Family (WMF) in Philadelphia on “Rebuilding the Domestic Church”. Follow-up ecumenical conferences are already scheduled for subsequent years. The first will be hosted by none other than First Baptist Church, Alexandria, the very same congregation founded by Jeremiah Moore in 1803. The second conference will be hosted by the Roman Catholic diocese of Harrisburg, a historic Roman Catholic diocese in the United States. The invitation to the WMF is a door of opportunity that has already issued into a precious ecumenical moment for our parish. We are becoming a sort of “Taizé of Families” as Catholic and Protestant families come to our parish to learn how to be healed as families and to rebuild the church out of a renewed understanding of nuptial love.
Another door of opportunity to “learn to love like God” is that our former adversaries—principally Muslims and liberal Episcopalians—are becoming friends. We are relearning that peacemaking is not only an imperative of the gospel but it is a principal “plausibility structure”, which makes it credible to a doubting world. We are no longer a church at war with others, even though our commitment to orthodoxy is stronger and our standards of holiness are higher than during our days of division. We are not a church that simply wishes to cohabit with differences. Instead, we are a church that seeks to give life to our adversaries just as we do to our family and friends. The same gospel that teaches us that marriage is the union of husband and wife in the bond of Christ’s love also teaches us to be peacemakers.
So what is God teaching us? Peacemaking is both the principal discipline and fruit of a nuptial life. And since nuptiality—a life of union with God and one another that heals creation—is at the heart of the gospel, to not seek peace is to falsify the gospel. Peacemaking does not always lead to reconciliation in our lifetime, but without peacemaking, we are condemned to a life of sterile judgment
A commonplace of Civil War lore is that when the military conflict ended, Northerners complained of Abraham Lincoln’s overall leniency toward Southern officers. Union officials demanded he destroy the Confederate enemies—not befriend them. Lincoln responded, “Have I not destroyed my enemy when I have made him my friend?” This is Truro’s experience of peacemaking as we participate in a long tradition of “ministry in Samaria”.
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- This chapter arises out of the specific history of Truro Church. What in your own history as a Christian or Christian community has shaped your approach to disagreement and peacemaking?
- From within your Christian tradition, who might be a “Samaritan” you need to make peace with and engage in conversation? How does Jesus’ approach in John 4 help?
- “When trust has been broken so has relationship. Jesus restores the relationship by first restoring the trust!” How do we restore trust when disagreements have led to relationship breakdown?
- What difference does the offer of “radical hospitality” make to us and to those with whom we disagree?
- Tory Baucum and Bishop Shannon are still in different churches. How does “good disagreement” enable former adversaries to become friends across the divide?
. Matthew Levering, Participatory Biblical Exegesis: A Theology of Biblical Interpretation (Notre Dame, IN, 2008), p. 148.
. John Hayes and Sara Mandell, The Jewish People in Classical Antiquity (Louisville, KY, 1998).
. This is a major theme of Jesus’ “short-term” peace mission in and around Samaria in Luke 9:51–19:44, which carries over into the mission of the apostles in Acts; see Paul Borgman, The Way According to Luke (Grand Rapids, MI, 2006), pp. 77–96.
. Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative (London, 1981), pp. 52–57.
. See further Ben Witherington, John’s Wisdom: A Commentary on the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge, 1995), pp. 115–25; Adeline Fehribach, The Women in the Life of the Bridegroom (Collegeville, MN, 1998), pp. 45–81; and especially Jocelyn McWhirter, The Bridegroom Messiah and the People of God: Marriage in the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge, 2006).
. Steven McMichael, “Francis and the Encounter with the Sultan (1219)”, in Michael J.P. Robson (ed.), Cambridge Companion to Francis of Assisi (Cambridge, 2012), pp. 127–42.
. Ignacio Larranaga, Brother Francis of Assisi (Quebec, 1989), p. 201.
. The conference talks were published as Kelly James Clark (ed.), Abraham’s Children: Liberty and Tolerance in an Age of Religious Conflict (New Haven, CT, 2012).
. See, for example, Miroslav Volf ‘s conversation with Sheik Habib Ali al-Jifri, in Allah: A Christian Response (New York, 2011), pp. 127–48.
. Joel C. Elowsky (ed.), Ancient Christian Commentary of Scripture: New Testament, vol. IVa: John 1–10 (Downers Grove, IL, 2006), p. 147.
. Patrick Reardon, Christ in His Saints (Ben Lomond, CA, 2004), p. 27.
. Elizabeth Stopp, A Man to Heal Differences: Essays and Talks on St Francis de Sales (Philadelphia, 1997), p. 196.
. Stopp, A Man to Heal Differences, p. 195.
. The whole intriguing episode merits reflection as a seminal instance of peacemaking between Christians; see André Ravier, Francis de Sales: Sage and Saint (San Francisco, 1988), pp. 79–95.
. A year later I learned that Shannon’s father had been a poetry professor, and, as he said to me, “I trust poetry more than prose. For something to be true it must be true in the heart not just the head.” It turned out to be the perfect gift, both “well and water” combined.
. At Truro Church, we have not yet entered this “third moment” of peacemaking with any of our former adversaries. More work remains to be done on the road of peace.
. Augustine, Sermo Suppositus, 120.
. Paul Chilcote, She Offered Them Christ: The Legacy of Women Preachers in Early Methodism (Nashville, TN, 1993).
. The Works of John Wesley (Nashville, TN and Oxford, 1984–), vol. 26, p. 206.
. The Works of John Wesley, vol. 2, p. 510.
. For the definitive account of the movement’s effect in North America, which explains and illustrates Truro’s experience, see Grant Wacker’s Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture (Cambridge, MA, 2001).