I met a scandalous woman with a terrible past. The horrors of her horrendous choices keep her barely crawling between fear, masks, and shame. Abuse, adultery, abortion, cheating, lying, fornication. Under the Mary Kay makeup, the Chanel perfume, and name brand clothing hides this feeble woman, imprisoned by the consequences of her own sins. How can Jesus love such a woman? She strides with a swaggering confidence on the narrow aisles of the church, and yet her inner self crumbles in a wide sea of insecurities and guilt. If anyone only knew her real self. She laughs with a joyful appetite among her peers and yet her inner cries can’t seem to find a satiating medicine. Her serene-like countenance in the face of the world hides desperate cries of help with the broken voice of her soul. How can Jesus possibly love her?
This must have been the question the Samaritan woman asked herself over and over again in John 4 after her encounter with the Messiah. There’s much about her that must have stood out and yet she tries to blend in the sea of the Middle Eastern women. Her race labels her as an outcast and her gender mocks her as a despised woman. She covers herself with cloths and veils as if to drown herself into a sheer of protection and safety from a racist and misogynistic world. And there is her social status, too. She can’t travel too far without having to meet demeaning eyes and gossiping mouths. They say she is godless, poor, and an adulterer.
She is an unnamed woman of shame. Her sinful choices brought judgment of immorality and degradation upon herself. She’s all she’s got in this world. No one cares that she is alone. She even stopped caring. She is now cheapening herself to get the protection and the love she so craves. She allows men to use her because this is what she thinks will keep her wanted. She is numb. Numb to gossip, mistreatment, and even to herself. She is a mess of a woman. Bankrupt on all fronts. Her past seems bigger than her village. And she stopped trying…
The value of a woman
At a well in Samaria, in the scorching heat of a summer day, Jesus waits for this woman. In a way that only Jesus could, he approaches a woman with an indecent sexual history, not to shame her, but to transform her. By the end of their encounter, the sins that once drew judgments become, because of Christ, redeemed nuggets of grace-filled testimonies. Jesus takes her broken platform and turns it into a pulpit of the gospel for her neighbors!
Unbeknownst to her, the Savior loves her. This is a woman God mysteriously knitted in her mother’s womb to serve his missional purposes gloriously described in John chapter 4. The way she sways with her jar, the language she speaks, the color of her eyes, her aging varicose skin, the noise of her laughter, all the way to the little knowledge she clearly has about the coming Messiah—all of her and her days were written in God’s book even before one came to pass. They all led to this hot summer day, at the well, in the Middle East, about 2000 years ago, away from neighbors and disciples, alone with her Maker.
There is something special about this scandalous woman for Jesus to have crossed so many barriers at this well. The situation is at best scandalous! The woman herself can’t get over the culturally and religiously ironic meeting; how could Jesus—a man and a Jew, talk to her—a woman and a Gentile? The disciples couldn’t hold in their odious gender-discriminating thoughts at what they saw as a revolting sight—Jesus alone with a woman. Imagine that! Had the Pharisees been present, well, they would have been aghast at Jesus’ appalling dialogue with such an immoral female of an inferior race, culture, religion, social standing, and education. How could he, indeed?
A jar, a well, and eternal life
Cornered on every side, this woman finds herself left to wits and meager resources alone. Five men came and left her, one by one. How would she fend food for herself? Would her savings be enough to buy more flour and medicine? Would the man she is with now leave her soon, too? Would anyone even miss her if she were to collapse on her way to the well? Perhaps the only thing that kept this Samaritan woman going every day was her daily routines, like fetching water in her clay jar from the city’s well. Here she goes again today, venturing out with a jar and her headdress, her thoughts and her struggles. Until Jesus interrupts her routine.
Much of the starter conversation at the well centers on water and jars. In a gentle and respectful way, Jesus positions himself to address the heart of her needs. This woman knows too well the significance of a need, a jar, a drink, and a well. The physical thirst is just one of her many needs. Actually, the thirst is the least of her problems. Much of her pain swells from the other needs that leave her empty and even more parched. The reality is that no matter how many times she offers her now age-beaten body to men in her life, her soul-deep emotional needs are never satiated. The well of fleeting men leaves her dry time and time again. And yet she can’t help but live each day with the faint hope that maybe this time the man she is with will give her the drink of protection that she so craves!
When Jesus approaches her with his redemptive and hopeful message of the living water he has to offer she can’t help but to cheapen it by mistaking it with a sort of magic potion water that cures her physical thirst and saves her trips to the well. “Sir, give me this [eternal] water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water” (John 4:15). The Lord is offering her something marvelous and eternally precious and she is too earthly-minded to notice. After all, her life rests in earthly needs and jars, water and wells.
From broken platform, to platforms of grace
Before the Samaritan woman meets her Savior later in John 4, her biography was just as earthly-minded as her needs: a few lines on daily chores and a few paragraphs on sexual promiscuity. There is little else we are told about her life. As a matter of fact, she is a woman with no family tree, no name, and no children in this biblical narrative. As if this was not lowly enough, her only point of identification is her homeland, the woman of Samaria, a region—mind you—despised by the neighboring Jewish communities.
But everything is about to change gloriously for this woman when she finally recognizes and surrenders to the Messiah, “he who is called Christ,” in her own words. Her heart is finally understanding and tasting from the fountain of living water that no earthly jar can hold. She takes off towards the town not before leaving behind her water jar as if to announce to the world that her deep soul needs have been met and no amount of earthly water can compare to the eternal spring she has found in Jesus!
For the rest of John chapter 4, Jesus is rewriting this woman’s biography with a redemptive twist as the Lord takes her promiscuous past and transforms it into a megaphone of His redemption for the whole town to hear. From an adulterer, the woman of Samaria becomes the first missionary woman to spread God’s forgiveness of her life to her community.
When she left her jar at the well, the Samaritan woman started living on the spring of water welling up to eternal life in her. This stream drowned her shame of now a forgiven past and welled up inside her the miraculous words of her Savior. “Come,” she calls, “see the man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” [emphasis mine]. The Christ who saw through her exterior and into her past reality, forgave her through his gift of eternal life unto a glorious future. No words were wasted. In fact, what Jesus uttered about her—even his words of her broken past in her now redeemed mouth become one of the greatest platforms of the good news. These words impacted countless Samaritans who believed her testimony and began following the Savior of the world. Unbeknownst to her, this nameless woman becomes her town’s greatest good. Jesus transforms this unknown woman’s shameful history into a redemptive biography. An adulterer who changed her city.
We all are in some way are scandalous women with terrible pasts. We hesitate to speak of our broken pasts. We desperately attempt to grasp at any superficial, seemingly life-saving circumstance. Maybe if we are more beautiful, worked harder, wear better clothing, befriend prestigious friends, pursue meaningful careers…maybe then we will forget our horrors and guilty choices. Because we fear judgment, alienation, separation, gossip, we parade ourselves in a mirage of confidence all the while hiding but inner cries of our insecurities and guilt.
We often ask ourselves, how can Jesus love a woman like me? I wonder if we really understand the height, the depth, the width of Christ’s love for us as redeemed women. I wonder if we truly believe that in Christ we are a new creation, that our old and ugly sinful history has been crucified with Christ, and that now we are a new woman. When Jesus is Lord of our lives, even the most broken and shameful pieces of our pasts can be used as redeemed testimonies of his grace, love, and salvation. Our platforms of the absolute worst, painful moments in our story become in Christ pulpits for the Savior’s good news to the nations. What’s your story?