The woman at the well, while we don’t know her name, is pretty famous in Christian circles and many books, sermons, and blogs have been written about her. And yet, even though she had been incredibly influential in the lives of many, we don’t know her name. As with the other unnamed women we’ve spent time with during this series, I am reminded that wide-spread name recognition shouldn’t be our ultimate goal—obedience and devotion to Christ should be.
We meet this precious woman in John 4 as she draws water from a well in the middle of the day. Jesus had been on a long journey and chose to pass through the town of Samaria, a place that many Jews avoided. He sat down at the well and began talking to this woman, something that she immediately called out.
“The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)” John 4:9 (NIV)
Can you imagine, just for a second, how unusual that encounter must’ve been for her? She was all alone, minding her business, trying not to be noticed by anyone, when Jesus, a Jewish man, began to speak to her. I wonder what might’ve been going through her mind as the conversation started.
Was she worried he would mock her or worse because she was a Samaritan woman?
Was she so stunned by his speaking to her that she dropped her water bucket?
Was she grateful for any non-judgmental contact that she received?
As the conversation continues, Jesus tells the woman about living water, the kind that only God provides that will never leave us thirsty. She says that she would like to have some of that water (who wouldn’t?!) when the conversation takes a very honest turn.
“He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
“I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” John 4:16-18 (NIV)
This woman tells the Lord something that’s factual, though it wasn’t the entire truth of her situation. No wonder why she was drawing water in the middle of the day when no one was around: she probably had been the talk of town gossippers for years. I can only imagine the shame she might’ve felt when Jesus asked her that question. I wonder if she gave him that answer hoping that he would move on from this awkward line of questioning.
Jesus didn’t ask her that question to shame her, but to free her. He knew her relationship history when he approached her and still continued to speak with her. He didn’t chastise her for not being chaste or for not giving him the entire truth in that moment. Instead, he encouraged her and praised her for her honesty.
I believe God was highlighting her gifts that he was about to use to draw others to himself.
Over the course of the entire conversation, the woman was pretty open and honest with him, except for this answer. She wasn’t ready to confront this area of deep pain, but that was exactly what God was going to use to display his goodness and grace to not only this woman but to the entire town of Samaria. And it was her boldness that was going to lead the way.
After Jesus outlines her dating history, she proclaims him to be the Messiah. Then, she goes throughout the town, telling everyone that the One they had been waiting for had come.
“Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.”” John 4:39 (NIV)
This woman’s boldness and honesty led to an entire town being saved. She was able to drop the shame of her past and run after Jesus, calling everyone she knew to do the same. The woman at the well, though she had been wearing a proverbial scarlet letter, used her God-given influence, candor, and tenacity to share truth with others.
The woman at the well was far from a perfect person and, honestly, would probably be judged by many today. And yet, she was the one God chose to spread his good news to a town that had been cut off from the Lord. Her past sins did not disqualify her from being used by God and neither do ours. No matter how we’ve messed up, disobeyed God, or lied about our failures, he still loves us and longs to meet with us. He wants to expose those painful things in our pasts so that he can heal them. And he desires to restore us so that he can restore others.
This woman reminds me that there’s always more room in God’s Kingdom, and he’s given us the opportunity to invite as many as we can to the party.