Those of you who have seen the musical Hamilton may recognise the words above. My daughter was really keen to watch it with me, so we did. I don’t know what I expected but I was blown away.
I learnt a lot.
I cried a lot.
I am now singing a lot!
It is the story of the founding fathers of America, one especially – Alexander Hamilton. The words above become the heart’s cry of one of the other characters though, who always seems to be kept out of the room where decisions are made, agreements shaken on, the course of this new country is set. These lyrics have been lodged in my head and I find myself thinking about them a lot, sensing there is something important here for me to sit with.
Hold that thought and let me tell you about something I heard recently about the woman at the well, from John 4:1-42.
We were read from a number of commentaries written across the years on this passage: commentaries that called this woman ‘tainted’, ‘evasive’, ‘truculent’, telling us that she was a lost soul, looking for meaning in her ‘pathetic’ promiscuous life and failing, that she was shunned by her society as she went to the well in the middle of the day, not welcome to mix with the other women at cooler times. Perhaps you have heard similar things across the years too?
We were challenged to consider if those readings were indeed to be found in the text?
Or does the text show us instead an intelligent woman, well read, with knowledge of the scriptures and her history: a woman who happens to be at the well at midday, which actually could have been for a whole load of reasons, who then goes toe to toe with Jesus in theological debate, a debate which really fires him up, which he names as being the food he feeds on. This woman is honest, actually, not evading Jesus’ questions and openly shares her past with him. Jesus talks about her situation as fact, without any moral comment or judgement. When this woman returns to her community, the people there listen to her, believe her and follow her – a sign that she may actually be a respected member of that community, not someone who is regularly shunned, ignored, scorned or rejected.
A very different reading to the one I have accepted, that has been handed down to me.
We have inherited so much, haven’t we, theologically, lots of good, but lots of bias too.
And this with Hamilton buzzing round my head makes me wonder who was in the room where it happened?
Who have the people been, in the theological room, where the meanings of passages have been decided?
And who wasn’t?
And what happens when those who have been outside of that ‘room’ are now finding their way in?
And surely when different perspectives, life experiences, slants, come to the table, we will actually start to see more?
If we look at the way God’s story travels, we see that it has always and only ever ‘belonged’ to an ever widening group of people, starting with Adam and Eve, into a family, then into a bigger family, then 12 tribes, a nation, and then crashing through barrier after barrier to include all peoples everywhere. These ever widening circles haven’t always enlarged easily, and there have been shifts in understandings and meaning along the way, which have been controversial, difficult for those currently ‘in the room’ to accept – but we always, always, the other side, end up seeing more of God and more of God’s open, welcoming, embracing love for us all.
I am grateful that there are more people ‘in the room where it happens’ – though there is always, always. always room for more.
I am grateful that I am part of an ever widening story – God’s word is living and active, on every level.
And I am excited about the shifts and changes going on in this story just now – trusting they will allow us all to see more of the One we worship.