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Her Ladyship: Photini

You have probably heard of Photini but not recognized her by that name. She is a misrepresented woman who lived in Israel during the time that Jesus was there. As a wife, and mother of two boys, she was a very influential lady in her community. History doesn’t record what her business was, but as I’ve learned of her impact on her city, I suspect she may have been quite involved in the governing body of the city. Records indicate that she met Jesus on only one occasion but that event turned her life completely around, brought conversion to her city and started a revival in the whole region.* Jesus’ disciples baptized her at Pentecost and gave her the name Photini which means “the enlightened one.” Her passion as a believer in the Messiah, and her efforts to tell others took her to Carthage, that part of Africa directly across from Rome. Nero did not appreciate the threat that her zeal had on his empire so he had her arrested and brought across the Mediterranean. Her eldest son, Victor, became a Roman military commander in the city of Attalla (Turkiye) and fought against the barbarians. Later, Nero called him to Italy to arrest and punish Christians, but as a believer like his mother, he refused. Meanwhile his mother, along with her five sisters, had been imprisoned where they continued to tell the good news. Even Nero’s daughter, Domnina, who was in charge of the prison, accepted the news and joined the burgeoning Body of Believers. The whole prison was transformed into a place where God was glorified. That infuriated Nero and he had the whole family murdered.

But where did Photini’s story start? Well, at Jacob’s Well in Sychar!** One day, instead of detouring around Samaria as most Jews did, Jesus had journeyed straight into Samaritan territory, sent His disciples off to buy lunch, and sat down at the well. I don’t know why Photini came out to get water at that moment. In all my research I cannot find any evidence to support the popular idea that she was a prostitute and was trying to avoid public notice. Nor can I find evidence that she didn’t like men. (I think that popular opinion grew out of Jesus’ comment about her multiple marriages and her current new courtship. Various translations from Greek disagree on whether she was being courted or living with the current gentleman. I’m not a Greek scholar, but when there is disagreement in English terminology, I want to back off on popular opinions! ) Besides, no Samaritan liked Jews. The feeling was mutual.

Flowing waterAs a busy ‘world changer’ in her community she may have been preparing that day for a special hospitality function in her home, and like many house wives, realized that she needed some last minute items for the event. With her servants busy at other tasks, she picked up a pot and rushed out to collect some water. When Jesus asked her if she would like to have running water (in her home) she jumped at the chance. The term ‘living water’ has been spiritualised by sermonizers, which is possibly appropriate, but it actually means ‘artesian’ or ‘flowing’ water. What busy householder wouldn’t want to have a tap in their home? Jesus certainly had her interest. That is apparent from her comment about being relieved of the drudgery of having to continually come out to the well.

When the subject of husbands came up, I think it is quite normal to include a spouse in any decisions about installing plumbing in one’s home, so it was good for Jesus to invite her to fetch him. Then when He revealed that He was aware of her marital situation, her curiosity grew even more. To her, it was hardly likely that Jews would be paying attention to Samaritan Tabloids. Now, to find one who did opened the door for her to ask the burning question of every Samaritan who felt the weight of Jewish hate. She wanted to know about where they should worship God. Jesus response that location wasn’t the important issue probably got her creative thoughts going: “If this guy can put plumbing in my house, maybe he can revolutionize my worship to being there too?”

Then she revealed her deepest hunger and that of every Jew too, of seeing a brighter future when the Messiah would come. I would just love to see her face when Jesus showed her His ID! I hope she just set her pot down rather than dropping it as she rushed into the city to scream: “Come, see a Man Who has told me everything that I ever did! Must not this be the Messiah, the Anointed One?” I’d also like to see the expressions on those Jewish disciples when they realized that they would have to spend the next three days camped in a Samaritan hotel.

I hope my understanding of this special incident in Photini’s life isn’t too heretical for you. I actually enjoy upsetting traditional thought, especially when unsubstantiated opinions tarnish a person’s reputation. How embarrassed will you be when you get to heaven and possibly discover that my observations are more accurate than the prostitute version? And how awkward do you think Photini feels every time she hears, once again, a misconstrued version of her life? If you have proof of an alternate lifestyle of my sister, please feed it to me gently. J

The Bible is such a delightful collection of fabulous stories. I thoroughly enjoy teaching them. Maybe that is why I get invitations to tell them? … john

(* Acts 8&9; **John 4)


(original post: Dec 4 2013)


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