If the first thing you think of when you remember the woman at the well is “the man you are living with now is not your husband,” then you have missed the whole point of Jesus’ visit to this Samaritan woman.
The Danvers Statement Affirmation #9 says: “With half the world’s population outside the reach of indigenous evangelism; with countless other lost people in those societies that have heard the gospel; with the stresses and miseries of sickness, malnutrition, homelessness, illiteracy, ignorance, aging, addiction, crime, incarceration, neuroses, and loneliness, no man or woman who feels a passion from God to make His grace known in word and deed need ever live without a fulfilling ministry for the glory of Christ and the good of this fallen world.”
No matter what shape the world is in, the writers of The Danvers Statement would never have chosen the woman at the well to be the instrument God used to win lost people to Christ.
But Jesus did.
Everyone knows her story. In fact, hers is one of the longest detailed stories of an event in the New Testament. It was her story. She told it to everyone who would listen. This man she had just met at the well knew that she had had five husbands and was now living with a man who was not her husband.
Jesus was not judging her for that. He was offering her something that no man could offer a woman. He was offering her living water—from a well that would never run dry. And he told her that he was the source of this living water.
This was a woman experienced in the ways of men, and she knew this conversation was different from any she had ever had. She was certainly not the one who would be expected to announce the news that prophecy had been fulfilled and that the long-awaited Messiah had finally arrived. No one would even listen to a woman proclaiming this momentous event, would they? But for some reason, Jesus chose her to reveal his true identity.
She took that message and ran with it.
It was Jesus who brought up the subject of living water. He told her that if she drank from the water he gave, she would never be thirsty again.
She wanted that. She said she did not want to keep coming to the well to draw water. She was probably teasing him at that point as she had no idea what he was talking about. Then Jesus did something surprising. He told her to go call her husband, and then to come back.
Aha! Finally Jesus brings male headship into the conversation! “Go, call your husband and come back,” Jesus said.
The woman answered, “I have no husband.”
Was Jesus was surprised at this? Did he ask her to go call her husband just to embarrass her? No, its significance is greater than her confession that she was not married to the man with whom she was living. She was worthy in her own right, as a woman, to be told directly by him that he was the Messiah. They engaged in a theological discussion. This woman was not learning in silence. And Jesus did not rebuke her for it. She talked back and told him that she could see that he was a prophet. She declared “I know that Messiah (called Christ) is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
And he did explain—right then and there—to the woman at the well, a woman who did not have a husband to tell her if what she was hearing was right or wrong. She heard, she accepted, she told.
This story of the woman at the well is found in John 4:4-42 and begins by saying, “Now he had to go through Samaria.” It is best translated that “he purposed in his mind” to go through Samaria, because the Jews had found a way, even though it was inconvenient, to avoid Samaria. They thought they were better than these poor cousins, the Samaritans, and for a Jew to deliberately go through Samaria was unusual.
There was something in Samaria that Jesus needed to do in order to complete his earthly work.
With this story of the Woman at the Well, we see how the picture of Jesus is coming together.
- The Jewish woman, Mary of Bethany, who Jesus permitted to sit at his feet right beside the men, and learn at a time when learning scripture was forbidden to women
- The Gentile woman to whom Jesus revealed that he was not sent only to Israel, but to all people, which included her
- The Samaritan woman to whom Jesus revealed that he was the Messiah, who the Samaritans were also expecting, since they claimed theirs was the true religion of the ancient Israelites.
These are pivotal stories because they show that Jesus gives the voice of the gospel to women just as he gives the voice of the gospel to men. These stories also set the stage for the empty tomb where it was women who first encountered the resurrected Jesus and where the full gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus would unfold. So, yes, Jesus purposed in his mind to go through Samaria, because he had something to complete in Samaria.
The completion of this mission was so satisfying to him that he told his disciples, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” The conversation he had with this woman had an effect on Jesus that was profoundly different from his other encounters with men or women. This is the only scripture passage in the Bible where Jesus said that what had just happened was so meaningful to him that he felt that he had been fed. In other words, mission accomplished.
Verse 42 says “…we no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” These men first heard the words of Jesus from a woman, and then they heard the same message from Jesus himself.
Jesus is headed to the garden tomb and the final meeting with a woman who steps into the Christian era with the news “He is risen!”
It is 2016. What will you do?
(This is a repost of my Lent series in 2016)