Yesterday I wrote a comment about the current meme of chivalry. The context seems to be its death, and its conflation with common decency. For we cannot choose how people will respond to us.
Chivalry is an institution rooted in the medieval court, none too distant from that venue where Thomas Becket wondered about doing the right thing for the wrong reason. When offering your seat to a woman, you should not do so in the belief that she owes you a grateful smile. You should not do so with an eye toward earning the silent admiration of the Shady Grove red line. And you certainly should not have in mind a grand scheme to encourage women to wear foxily uncomfortable shoes more often. Some scholars of courtly love suggest that chivalrous acts be performed with the Virgin Mary in mind, but that’s not my bag, and I can top them by supposing that the only person whose pleasure you consider when yielding your seat to a lady is that of the mother who raised you wonderfully.
This led to a three or four blog argument. It drove what I said yesterday. One of the facets of this discussion became what happens when the person who is strong becomes weak. Morticia talked eloquently on this, and SSM has a thread going right now,. with some more useful links.
1Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, “Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John” — 2although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized — 3he left Judea and started back to Galilee. 4But he had to go through Samaria. 5So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
7A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
16Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
Gentlemen, can you see this? He agreed that it was unusual for a Jew to ask a Samaritan for water, twisted this to begin talking about living water… and the woman thought she wanted a tap. So he twisted that to talk about water that will assuage spiritual thirst.
She’s now intrigued. So he says find your man. Middle east: Pax Romana — robbers, OK, rebellion not. The village is safe when people are there. He implies that he expects all women to be under authority. She gives the flat response that she has no husband. He says — yeah, you have been divorced five times and no one will marry you.
So she deviates. Jesus ignores it. Jesus sets the agenda. He’s not going to let her wit deviate him.
He did not see her as some kind of superspiritual being. He saw her instead as needy and broken. I find that when I have to do this — businesslike really helps. For sometimes you have to say “you chased a bottle of aspirin with vodka”.
(In case you are wondering, I dislike the book and hate the movie: I work with the mad and their suffering is painful to witness).
The courtly knight would have put a shade cloth up and drawn water from the well for this damaged woman. That would have increased her self esteem. But life is not about self esteem, and the need for salvation requires that we take a careful stock of ourselves and see the need and hurt that lies beneath our possessions, status and relationships.
For we are all broken. We need to do good, yes. But we cannot demand that the person respond as they should, or ought. We should therefore honour those who do, not the results.
Besides, as anyone who knows the Authurian cycle will know, the virtues can be faked and the results gamed.