The details of Jesus’ encounter with the Woman at the Well mount with an exciting, and almost scandalous tension. With every reading, it is astounding to watch Jesus’ persistent, genuine pursuit of this person who, for so many reasons, is considered by many to be beyond hope:
- Jesus talks to a woman.
- Jesus talks to a woman — alone.
- This woman is a Samaritan, an outcast in the minds of the Jewish community.
- She is a broken woman who avoids the other women by going to the well at noon.
- Jesus astounds her with a word of knowledge by revealing her most ashamed secret–she has had 5 husbands, and is currently with a man she is not married to.
- Jesus and this hurting Samaritan woman have a profound theological discussion, which ends with the revelation of Himself as the Messiah, and points to the coming of the indwelling Holy Spirit who will fill every man, including the Samaritans, so that they may worship in Spirit and Truth.
This crescendo of events is enough to excite us, but I noticed one more detail on my most reason reading:
“Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.’
“The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty, nor come all the way here to draw.’”
It is after this statement that He identifies the reason she is coming here so late in the day:
“Go call your husband.”
The woman is eager to receive anything that will numb the pain of isolation, shame, and hurt. She has already found a means of avoiding those that would openly condemn her; already, she would rather risk the discomfort of the hot afternoon sun than stand beneath the heat of their judgmental glances. And now, here is an option to never risk encountering them again. This is what seems to be true freedom: this mysterious water that will enable her to completely avoid the pain altogether. Just pretend like it’s not there. If she never sees it, it doesn’t exist, right?
Our tendency is to prefer receiving the mercy of God in a personal and individualistic way—it’s easier. “Jesus, let me just talk with you here in my quiet time. That way I don’t have to face those people…”
However, the life of God cannot be received simply as a means to cover up shame, and continue to live in isolation. Oh no, He won’t permit it. Jesus’ grace in our lives does not hide, or even simply wash us of the shame that condemns us–He transforms us, He redeems. He takes that which was broken, and far beyond simply mending it, He remakes it altogether, refashioning it in its original design as He intended. And when we are made new creations, the transformation continues in the context of a community.
In the same way, this story does not end with their encounter. The disciples return, and as Jesus proclaims the reality that those who are to receive the gospel are ready and ripe, the city rushes to Jesus to hear more about Him. And why?
“…because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me all the things I have done.’”
We find that the Samaritan woman is not only given back her dignity through the diverse ways in which she is acknowledged and validated as a human–a worshiper, a woman, and a theological equal–but because she is restored to her community. She is given a witness about the Messiah, and the people receive her, responding to her testimony by coming to receive for themselves.
Hidden shame perpetuates a lie that when shame is exposed, it will only produce more shame. Instead, here we see that when the Woman’s shame is exposed by the mercy and grace of Jesus, she is restored to the very thing that shame had taken away–her voice and participation in the community.
This story reveals the incredible value that the Lord puts on living as a family, instead of as individuals. Our broken culture proclaims that only those who are weak must resort to depending upon others. However, scripture tells us that we are a “Body”, so in fact we are created to be interdependent; it is when we are separated that we are broken and weak. The church does not function correctly when we are not in communication or communion. We see in this instance that not only is the Woman restored to her community, but her very presence is vital to their salvation. Had she not shared her story, no one would have received of the living water that Jesus had. Each member is important.
Through honestly loving one another as Christ sees us, we will see a generation transformed through the testimony of Living Water that flows freely.