Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well
is, in my opinion, one of the most remarkable, socially-unacceptable, counter-cultural instances told in scripture. As if being a woman during this period was not bad enough, to be a Samaritan woman was a double curse. Jews did not associate with Samaritans and would never share a drinking vessel with them, lest they, too, become unclean. Samaritans were considered “half-breeds” and were avoided at all costs.
Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well and asks her to give him a drink. She is stunned, informing him that she is a Samaritan
woman and He is a Jew, so how could He ask her for a drink. Jesus then teaches her the lesson of living water, tells her about her five husbands, and finally reveals to her that a time is coming when people will be able to worship God in spirit and truth, only through the power of God’s spirit. (That’s quite a heavy conversation, one He had not even shared with the 12). When she proclaims that she knows there is a day when a Messiah will come, Jesus says, “I am He.”
Again, this is more information than even the disciples are aware of at this point. She runs back to town and tells many of the men
(plural, so probably men and women) about Jesus, confessing that He knew everything about her.
“From that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all the things that I have done” (John 4:39).
Mr. Davidson, from the Church of God, highlights some interesting facts about this famous encounter between Jesus and The Woman at the Well:
“The conversation with the woman at the well is the longest recorded discussion Jesus had with anyone—and she, a Gentile woman. Further, the lesson Jesus gave her about living water was just as profound as the lesson he gave Nicodemus—and the woman had a better response. Unlike Nicodemus, she was willing to be associated with Jesus. She told her neighbors about Jesus, and many of them believed in Jesus ‘because of the woman’s testimony.’”
The most fascinating part of this story is that while she ran back to town to tell others to come see the one who could be the long-awaited Messiah, Jesus is praising her work through a parable to his returning dumbfounded-disciples, who are marveling at the fact that Jesus would be talking to a Samaritan woman, apparently alone! Scandalous. This is surely not only a social violation, but a theological violation. Yet, the disciples were too chicken to ask aloud: “why would He be talking to this woman….”
So, Jesus schools them about the unlikely partnerships and co-working in The Great Upside Down Kingdom of God….
“Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest. Already he [original translation: “one”] who reaps is receiving wages and is gathering fruit for life eternal; so that he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together.” So in this case the saying is true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ “I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored and you have entered into their labor.”
Jesus, The Ultimate Seed Sower, plants His Word into the woman’s heart, who in turn plants His Word in the hearts of others. This must have been a trying and puzzling lesson for the disciples, who previously wouldn’t even have made eye contact with a Samaritan, let alone work along side them, partnering up in the cause of God, to invite “half-breeds” to become followers of Jesus.
Isn’t the story of the woman at the well a reflection of what evangelism is really about? Churches that forbid or discourage women from preaching the gospel in the presence of men miss the entire point and essence of true evangelism. Preaching the Good News of Jesus should not be a means to gain or exercise authority/control over people. To portray it as such (since that IS the reason sited to bar women from becoming public evangelists), perverts the spirit in which evangelism should be acted out. Evangelism is about pointing people to JESUS. It’s about teaching people what the gospel is, what Jesus said and did, and to invite others to began their own faith journey. How sectors of the church can restrict women from preaching the good news of the gospel in the presence of men is just tragic to me. The Samaritan woman’s sense of urgency, as she runs back to town to tell anyone who will listen about the Messiah, says it all. Where’s that urgency today? Are we too busy squabbling over which gender can say and do what in the presence of which people and in which forums? Titles and positions of preacher, teacher, pastor, evangelist and so forth, should not be viewed as ways to get authority, but as an avenue to live out the authority and calling of the gospel for those gifted and equipped in each area.
Why do we split such flimsy hairs when it comes to women in ministry: woman can preach the gospel, but they cannot BE a preacher. Women can DO evangelism. but cannot BE an evangelist. Women can SHARE the gospel, but cannot TEACH the gospel.
Don’t we want to reach as many people as we can? Why do we make teaching the Gospel a matter of “authority over others” and “proper gender roles”? (Again, I am speaking to the more rigid branches of complementarianism).
The Woman at the Well did not hold an “official” position (so don’t misunderstand my intent), but as one of the first people EVER for Jesus to choose to reveal Himself as the Messiah and as the first person to spread the news of Jesus beyond the Jewish people, she sets an important example of the true heart of ministry.
I came across this three-minute creative, contemporary, beat-poet-ish
video, portraying this story from the Samaritan woman’s perspective. I found it compelling: The Woman at The Well.