Who do we see Jesus confront with their sin in the Bible? Religious people who already think they are righteous friends of God. How does Jesus respond to the rest of us? Check out the 4th chapter in the Gospel of John by clicking here. It’s the famous story of Jesus and the woman at the well.
For me this is a marvelous example of how Jesus handles our shame. In simplest terms this is a story with three characters: a man, a woman, and a well. Except the man happens to be Jesus Christ, this woman has a bit of a reputation, and the well itself is full of meaning and significance. Oh and the woman is a Samaritan and Jesus is well, you know, a Jew (and the Messiah!). If you aren't familiar with the backstory between the Samaritans and the Jews, google that. But here’s a quick hint, they really, really don’t like each other. So maybe this isn't as simple as I first said it was, but let’s keep looking.
First things first, why does it make sense to come get water in the hottest part of the day? It doesn’t! There has to be a reason why she is coming to draw water in the hottest part of the day. It’s likely that she’s avoiding crowds because she is part of the talk of the town if not the favorite subject. We find out why a little later, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to imagine that our heroine is carrying more than just the physical weight of the water jugs.
So Jesus gets to the well first and waits for her to arrive. She walks up and Jesus asks for a drink. This may seem normal enough to our modern minds, but in Jesus’ day and setting this is a huge no-no. He shouldn’t address any woman, much less this Samaritan woman, in a public setting. He shouldn’t ask her for anything, especially something that he can consume. He is seen as a Rabbi, she is seen much lower on the social ladder in her town. These interactions can only pass the shame of the woman on to her male conversation partner. Notice how all of this is so totally off Jesus’s radar. He’s breaking at least three social norms just to strike up the conversation. Let all this sink in for a minute. It’s a really important part of the story. Jesus’s actions are a not so subtle reminder that nothing can separate us from God’s love, He is simply unconcerned with the circles that we draw around ourselves and others.
There’s something else going on here too that I overlooked for a long time. By asking her for a drink, Jesus isn’t just looking to chat, he’s asking for a favor. He’s lowering himself, putting himself at the mercy of the woman. He’s not just flipping social norms here, he’s getting beneath whatever has her avoiding crowds like the plague. In asking for a favor the woman has the power over Jesus—she has the power to say no. Like it or not, this is a form of submission. By addressing this woman at Jacob’s well Jesus *sees* her. He is present with her. Holding space for her. He could have ignored her and not seen her.
And we *see* the woman because Jesus did. Of all the people in the town that day, it’s this conversation that Jesus has with her that gets recorded.
Brandon completed his M.A in Counseling from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2009. Since then he has worked in community mental health agencies and private counseling centers. Aside from serving as the Director for ICP he also has a private counseling practice. Brandon lives in Louisville with his wonderful wife and children.