At the site of Jacob’s well, which is still in existence today, Jesus met a Samaritan woman on his way back to Galilee and asked her for a drink of water. We find many discrepancies at play within the breadth of this narrative and its culture: local women did not draw water alone, yet here she was, alone, drawing water in middle of the day (John 4:6). The lack of accompaniment of other women suggests that this woman was an outcast, since it was custom for women to draw water in groups. The woman counters Jesus’ request, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (John 4:9). Jewish men did not speak to women alone nor did they interact with Samaritans. Some may have even indicated asking a woman for water as flirtatious. Similarly, under Jewish law, water coming from this woman would be considered unclean. Yet, there he sat next to a well, in the heat of the day asking an unclean woman for unclean water.
It is not uncommon for Christians to read this account and recognize the blurring of racial and cultural customs which Christ blatantly disregards. What we do seem to overlook, however, is the Samaritan woman, whose name we will never know. We distinguish this woman as a sinner, for she has been married five times. Though, the likelihood of her choosing divorce, (formally or informally) or to voluntarily leave her livelihood would be rare. We are talking about a first century Samaritan woman. Any right or luxury for her to do so simply did not exist. The truth is, she was more likely to have been abandoned or cast off five times than to be a “loose” woman who left five different men. Not only does the culture surrounding this account suggest this, but the narrative itself never indicates otherwise. Christ merely says, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands…” (John 4:17b-18a). Furthermore, the Samaritan woman never claims to have been a dishonorable sinner that many assume her to be, but expresses in her enthusiasm to other Samaritans, “He told me everything I ever did” (John 4:39b). Is it possible that the infamous Samaritan woman at the well was a victim that we have unknowingly disregarded? Is it too implausible that, instead of a sinner, Christ saw a woman who was a victim of abandonment and abuse in desperate need of his living water in a world that deemed her unworthy? Could it be that this woman went back to Samaria and told others about Christ not because he knew her darkest sin, but because he noticed her deepest pain?
Let me push further…
If you are unaware of #metoo, you may have been living under a rock for the past few days. Allow me to briefly fill you in: after the allegations of Harvey Weinstein surfaced, actress Alyssa Milano took to Twitter, suggesting for those who have been sexually harassed or assaulted to write “Me Too” on their social media accounts to raise awareness of how many women have dealt with sexual assault. #metoo quickly became a trending topic on social media, with women courageously sharing their experiences. All the while, my heart broke as I scrolled through my news feed and read stories of women (and men) I admire, love and respect, who have been affected by sexual assault. Some of whom I have known for years and never knew their stories, and some of whom I have sat and cried with as they have poured out their hearts. Then, countless stories remain untold and unheard. These stories are not politically charged nor are they born from a desire to push an agenda. No, these stories are congenital of a broken system where those in power, whether it be in a family, a corporation, or a church, have abused their authority at someone else’s expense. My interpretation of the woman at the well is open to speculation since she is not here to tell her story, but the ongoing disregard to thousands of women who are currently living and telling their stories, or afraid to tell their stories, is not.
Christians: we have a responsibility to these people. Our responsibility is to invite them to drink the living water, just as Jesus invited the Samaritan woman amid her pain. Although reading and acknowledging the stories shared is a step, it does not break down the paradigms which have been a channel of abuse in our culture. Our churches must be safe spaces not only free of abuse, but also spaces of sharing and healing. Our responses cannot be accusatory, ever. Even more, our theology must empower young women to choose to respect their bodies as an expression of obedience to Christ, rather than a theology which teaches women that their bodies are a source of temptation that men cannot control. In addition, we should commit to teach our young men that women are equally deserving of dignity and respect. Harassment of any kind should never be acceptable behavior, reasoned with or the norm. To my sisters and friends: thank you for sharing your stories. You will not be overlooked. To my fellow Christians and ministers: let us be agents of healing and grace.
“Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16).