The Woman at the Well!
What more can be said about one of the most explored texts of the New Testament? How can we, as women, who have heard this story, read this story, preached this story, and studied this story, find fresh revelation in the narrative of our sister, who encountered Jesus, the Messiah, at a watering hole in Samaria? Can we learn anything new about her story and how it connects to our own? Perhaps we can, so let’s take another look to rediscover this unnamed woman whose meeting with Jesus at the well in Sychar transformed her life and the life of her community.
And now, THE WORD from our Sponsor (The Gospel of John – Chapter 4: 1-30, 39-43)
The good news of the book of John, the youngest of the four biographical gospels of Jesus, is filled with conversations. Within this gospel, we find the longest dialogic engagements between Jesus and those whom He encounters, heals, teaches, delivers, and debates. Amazingly, the conversation between the woman at the well and Jesus is the longest discourse in the book of John. Another distinction: In the gospel of John, Jesus first reveals his messiahship to a woman – the woman at the well. Their scandalous conversation encompasses an entire chapter to provide us with a wealth of theological enlightenment, between a woman who believes she is at a chance meeting at a familiar Samaritan well, and Jesus who knows her life’s journey will be completely redirected because of their sacred interaction.
The first thing we learn about this unnamed woman is her ethnicity. She is a Samaritan. This fact is a huge consideration within the narrative. By the mention of the Samaritans within the book of John, we can glean a history of unrest, rivalry, and hostility between the Jews and the Samaritans, who at one time were one people.
About the Samaritans: “The Samaritans were descendants of the Israelites of the northern kingdom who had intermarried with foreign settlers after the fall of Samaria (the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel) in 722 B.C.E. [This story is first narrated in 2 Kings 17]. As a result of this racial intermarriage, the Samaritans were no longer considered to be truly Jewish and were hated by most Jews. The Samaritans continued to worship as the Jews did, but took only the first five books of the Old Testament as their spiritual authority. They built a “rival” temple on Mount Gerizim – which they believed to be the site of the altar where Abraham prepared to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice. (thebiblejourney.com). ” “Jews traveling between Galilee and Judea would take the longer, six-day journey along the Jordan River valley rather than taking a shorter, more direct route through Samaria. The Jews avoided the Samaritans because of their bitter history.” (margmowczko.com – A Brief History of The Samaritans)
The second thing we learn about the woman at the well, in her story, is the presentation of a bold and confronting female persona. Jesus, the non-traditional rabbi, decides to engage “the enemy.” The unnamed woman recognizes and acknowledges their unorthodox moment with a retort of her own: “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” As the audience, we can feel her initial attitude towards Jesus in the text: accusatory, impertinent, and full of self-righteous religious conviction. Translation: Don’t talk to me – I’m better than you! When Jesus backs her down by suggesting she has no idea whom she’s talking to, girlfriend tests another approach: “Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?” Translation: You might be better than me, a Jew; but I am superior to you in religious knowledge.
Jesus reads her again with a spiritual metaphor [living water] that blew her mind; one she did not fully comprehend and sets her up for the most disruptive and instigated moment in her life. Jesus exposed the blind spots of her life experience and refused to let her lead the conversation away from what became a one on one divine therapeutic session. When Jesus pointed out a profoundly personal vulnerability within her life, she acknowledged his prophetic giftedness; but, held on tight to her waterpot of denial, attempting to steer the conversation back to a religious debate. “Go get your husband!” Jesus commands. Translation: “Woman, I can see through all your Maybelline!”
At this intersection of the story, it should become personal to us. Many of us can relate to the failed attempt of this woman to protect the weighty place of her woundedness. Whether she was caught in the web of levirate marriage (forced to marry the brothers of her first husband after his death) or the unfortunate choice to live a scandalous life, ignoring the conventions of moral decency, i.e., “shacking up,” this woman decided to ride the fence in the hopes that Jesus was thrown off the scent of her spiritual brokenness and communal isolation (she was at the well at noon by herself). But, no amount of rhetorical volleyball could stop Jesus from his divine mission at the well of Sychar. The Messiah was present that day, at the well, to disrupt the course and flow of this woman’s life.
Here we see the providential presentation of the Divine Instigator: “God is the world’s greatest instigator. He lovingly intrudes, instigating encounters that are designed to bring us into a greater place of intimate understanding, while ushering us into a co-existence of clarity and contradictions. This process is the meticulous design of the Eternal, to navigate us through the maze of the uncertain to the place of confidence in God through Jesus Christ.” (Bishop John E. Guns – St. Paul Church of Jacksonville).
Here at the well of confrontation and deliverance, Jesus instigates a brand new beginning for this woman. As we have heard many times before, her “misery became her ministry.” The “process of meticulous design by the Eternal” is one of divine contradiction and irony. A religiously confused Samaritan woman sent back to her community by the delivering power of the Messiah, became an evangelist for the mission and the message of Jesus: “Come see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?”
We look with fascination at this woman, once shunned by her community, now being used by God to evangelize the mission and message of Jesus. Sent by Jesus from the well of her brokenness into new pathways of living, she became a channel for ministry and an agent of transformation. Her personal agency, once a combative defense mechanism to keep others away, became a magnetic draw to lead her community to Christ. The waterpot, a symbol of the burden of her woundedness and confused existence, is left at the well, as she ran back to her community with praise and testimony on her lips about her newfound Savior.
From her story, we discover the possibilities of being used by God for God’s divine purpose. Even our personal challenges, (the things we and others see as negatives) are designed by God to be used for destiny, ordination, leadership, kingdom building, ministry, and transformative growth.
At the well with our sister, we learn that it is never about us, but instead, it is about who we are with: a loving Messiah who looks past our faults and sees the potential of our purposeful possibilities. Jesus, the Divine Interruptor, “instigates and induces [our]courage and strength, the kind of strength that causes you to rise up out of your dormancy, your passivity, your disinterest in the issues and the needs of others, and become actively and meaningfully involved and engaged, to become an agent of transformation and change in weary and wounded humanity.” (Bishop John E. Guns)
Inspired by this woman’s story, our prayerful request is to be used by God: Lord, send us to build your kingdom. Use our gifts to spread the mission and message of Jesus. Let us drink of Your living water to become your Well Women, ones who see the needs of others and respond with energy and passion to change this world.
“The highest human act is to inspire.” Nipsey Hustle
“Lord, change me from the inside out.” Romans 12:2
“I think my job is to make the grace of an invisible God, visible, where I am.” Paul Tripp
Our Sending Prayer
Be my Redeemer, my Keeper, my Guide. I thank you for Your eternal presence in my life. Help me surrender to you and recognize in this moment that Yours is the power to heal and make me whole.
You who have the power to work miracles; You who have the power to rule time, please take me in Your arms and hold me. Dear Lord, lift me up and heal me.
Cast out of my mind all thoughts that are not of You, for I wish to be made anew. I wish to walk so close to You that we might be as one. I ask for a new life, a new mind, a new body, a new soul. Do within me what You want to do that I may burst forth now to bless the world. (Excerpted from “Illuminata – A Return to Prayer” – Marianne Williamson)
In the precious name of Jesus, I pray. AMEN!
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