(Please read my introduction to this series here.)
I wonder if there is a more misunderstood and maligned woman in Scripture that the "Woman at the Well"?
What do we know for sure about her? ... Well:
1) She's a Samaritan, a mixed-blood race resulting from the intermarriage of Israelites left behind when the people of the northern kingdom were exiled and Gentiles who were brought into the land by the Assyrians. Bitter hostility existed between Jews and Samaritans in Jesus’ day. The Samaritan Bible contained only the Pentateuch, or the Law. Samaritans worshiped the true God, but their failure to accept much of his revelation meant that they knew little about him. But, and this is important for this story, they had the same laws regarding marriage;
2) She has had 5 husbands and the man she is living with now is not her husband. Now, this is often taken to imply that she is a "woman of ill repute" or a "harlot" or "loose" woman. I'm not so sure. Married 5 times, in the culture of the day, in the deeply religious Samaritan culture that clung to the Torah, the Law, could be explained by the Jewish practise of Levirate marriage. Levirate marriage is mandated by Deuteronomy 25:5-6 which obliges the oldest surviving brother of a man who dies childless to marry the widow of his childless deceased brother, with the firstborn child being treated as that of the deceased brother. Quite possibly this has happened 4 times and she has now run out of brothers to marry. You might remember the Sadduccees coming to Jesus with this story once (Mt 22:23-28):
That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?’
So, perhaps she's run out of brothers and she's with a man now who has taken her in and is caring for her, but who refuses to marry her, but she needs the protection and support which keeps her off the street, which is where widows ended up if they had no children to support them. She could also be someone who has been divorced, as the Law allowed, and in the culture of the day, sometimes for very little reason. The husband just has to say I divorce you in the presence of 2 witnesses, and she's out. So, all we know regarding her morality, is that she's been married 5 times and is now living with a man. So, perhaps she is a loose, immoral women, except for my 3rd point about her;
3) She's held in high regard in her village. If we read to the end of the story, we see that when she runs into the village and shares the good news that the Messiah has revealed Himself to her, they have enough respect for her to go and see for themselves. If she is the loose, immoral women that she is often made out to be, the village wouldn't pay attention to her, particularly regarding the unbelievable news she claimed to have.
So, who does the Samaritan woman at the well stand for today. Can I suggest she represents all women who are taken advantage of because of the unfortunate circumstances that life deals them. She is the woman who is this very moment being trafficked somewhere in the world; she is the refugee fleeing a war-zone who latches on to a man who offers 'protection' on the journey; she represents every woman caught up in a relationship that she cannot escape from; she represents every man and woman desperate for something more in this life.
Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people.
To this woman, and some are just horrified that it is to a woman, to this woman He entrusts Himself and tells her what He tells no one else, not even the disciples, ever, He tells her: I am the Messiah.
Now you need to go back to my introduction, or to the very first sermon I preached at Meadow Way in July last year, to understand that in the language of the day, Jesus was not only saying that He is the Messiah, but also that He is also God ... I Am in Hebrew is the name that God gave to Himself when He spoke to Moses from the burning bush. So Jesus is revealing to this woman that He is not only the Messiah, but also that He is God!!! The Christian theology and doctrine tied up in this statement is mind-blowing: Jesus is revealing that the Messiah is in fact God Himself. The Jews (and Samaritans) believed that the Messiah would be a human, a descendant of David, a great human king. Jesus is revealing that God has in fact become a human ... the doctrine of incarnation. In a few moments He will speak to her about God being Spirit ... so tied up in this is our doctrine of the Trinity. He reveals to her more than He reveals to any other human being while He is in the flesh. That should make us look at this story with different eyes and hearts.
A few lessons:
The Jews wanted nothing to do with the Samaritans and vice versa. Who do you want nothing to do with? There are countless modern parallels to the Jewish-Samaritan enmity—indeed, wherever peoples are divided by racial and ethnic barriers. Perhaps that’s why the Gospels and Acts provide so many instances of Samaritans coming into contact with the message of Jesus. It is not the person from the radically different culture on the other side of the world that is hardest to love, but the nearby neighbor whose skin color, language, accent, values, and customs are different from one’s own. Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans. With whom do you have no dealings? Which leads to my second lesson;
Who do you judge? There is no judgement on the lips of Jesus ... no judgement, no condemnation. Jesus does not make her feel bad about her sin. Let me make it quite clear, He does not condone it ... don't read into this story that it's ok to live with someone outside of marriage, it's not; but hopefully I'm saying this in a way that does not sound like I'm judging and condemning you, because that is not my job or the church's, and if we have ever done that, please have mercy on us and forgive us. She's honest with Jesus and before any repentance on her part, He entrusts Himself to her and that, I believe, probably changes her, but we're not told if she changed. Praise God we don't have to change before He will entrust Himself to us. Scandalous, the good news, isn't it. Which leads to my 3rd lesson;
Explore what it means in your life to meet Jesus at the well, your place of need, your thirst, your shame perhaps. Now I explored in great detail last Sunday evening how we can become more and more aware of Jesus being with us, so perhaps revisit that teaching (read The With Us God here). Meet Jesus at your well, in honesty and just as you are, who knows, He might very well entrust Himself to you.