Jesus' Courtship in Samaria, Part 2

Disadvantaged Women

I didn’t sign up for it. I didn’t take any graduate or post-graduate classes to prepare me for the experiences. But Jesus does not seem to ask my permission before he sends people my way. In one particular phase in our ministry experience, Jesus sent us women in deep pain. Most of these broken ladies came through our prison ministry.

The list included many women who “kicked the curb” to make a living (I’m not referring to female soccer players), porno film actors (none of them had any starring roles in Disney features), “dancers,” (I don’t mean ballroomdancers either if that’s what you are thinking), and others whose stories are fraught by shame, embarrassment, and pain.

The common causes that chained together most of these women were the abuse of drugs or alcohol, sexual or physical abuse, involvement with the occult, or dysfunctional homes. It’s easy for church folk to sit in judgment on such. It’s easy to dismiss such as hopeless–”they’ll never change.” Prior to my meeting them and listening to their stories of pain, I might have done the same. The virus that breeds proud Pharisees resists even the powerful antibiotic of Jesus’ mercy. But many of them met Jesus and received the living water he offered to them. Their past did not control their future.

Come and See

If you also have a shameful, pain-filled past and regret the choices you made, take hope. Your past is not your future. Your past does not control your future. But perhaps you consider your own past as a permanent disadvantage, an insurmountable barrier to keep you from being close to God and contributing meaning and hope to others.

Come and see a picture of shame morphing into fame. I would like to show you that your disadvantages–while real–are not permanent barriers at all.  Come with me and see a woman with more than her fair share of disadvantages. But because she met Jesus and responded in faith to what he revealed about himself, this woman overcame the disadvantages and became a model female disciple. She drew close to God and contributed hope and strength both to men and women. You can, too.

John places this disadvantaged woman in a position where we can compare her with an advantaged male. The man and the woman are placed side-by-side for easy comparison. Observe the comparison which highlights her disadvantages and his advantages. The odds seem stacked against her.

John 3: Advantaged Male                              John 4: Disadvantaged  Female

Nicodemus                                                            Unnamed Woman
Male                                                                       Female
Jewish                                                                   Samaritan (mixed race)
Pharisee (thus, married)                                       Unmarried
Member of elite Sanhedrin                                   Shameful past
Knows something about Jesus                            Knows nothing about Jesus
Knows about Jesus’ miracles                               No knowledge of Jesus’ miracles
Knows that Jesus is from God                             Complete stranger to Jesus
Israel’s Teacher                                                     Despised Samaritan
Came to Jesus at night                                        Jesus came to her (mid-day)

Who Will Win the MVP Award?

So, who do you predict would win the Most Valuable Disciple Award? Nicodemus, the privileged Jewish male or the disadvantaged, unnamed, and despised Samaritan woman? Remove Jesus from the equation, and the results would be predictable. I’d predict that Nick would take the trophy home. But not so fast. Jesus is a part of the equation. So, keep reading. Will disadvantages guarantee future failure?

Two simple facts emerge that I think you ought to consider before you cast your vote.

First, even though Jesus’ disciples are surprised to find Jesus speaking with a woman (John 4:27), Jesus is not bothered at all. It doesn’t matter that she is a woman or a Samaritan or that she has a shameful past. He knew she had five previous husbands and that the man she was living with was not her husband (John 4:17-18). The barriers and distinctions didn’t matter to Jesus. Ready to vote?

They still don’t. He still talks to the despised folk today. He’ll talk to you, too, even if your past is a source of embarrassment and your current living conditions need adjusting. He knows all about your past. But he will still come to you and talk to you and treat you with respect. Is he trying to talk with you today? OK, don’t vote yet.

Second, as Jesus reveals his true identity to her stage by stage, she accepts what he claims about himself (Remember John’s earlier words: “But as many as received him…to them he gave authority to become children of God…” John 1:12) This despised woman is receiving Jesus stage by stage as he gradually reveals his true identity to her. Ready to cast your vote? And, is Jesus trying to talk to you?

Follow how Jesus reveals truth about himself to her and how she receives what he says:

Woman: You are a Jew (a thirsty Jew) 4:9
Jesus: If you knew…who it is…that asks…4:10
Woman: Are you greater than our father Jacob? 4:12
Jesus: Whoever drinks from the water I will give 4:13
Woman: Give me this water 4:15
Jesus: Go call your husband 4:16-18
Woman: I perceive that you are a prophet 4:19-20
Jesus: God is spirit 4:21-24
Woman: I know that the Messiah is coming 4:25
Jesus: I who speak to you am he 4:26
Woman: Come see a man…Could this be the Christ? 4:29-30

Disadvantages Are Not Barriers To God

Did you follow how she received what Jesus said? In spite of her many disadvantages, the woman listens and receives truth. Jesus talks. She listens and responds. At each successive stage in the conversation, the woman is ready to receive the truth Jesus unveils about himself—the Messiah who can deliver living water-even without drawing from the well.

The irony is that both Jesus and the woman were thirsty. She came to the well bringing a bucket. But she went back to her village and left the empty bucket at the well (4:28). Jesus asked her for a drink (4:7) and yet never drinks anything. Reason: the subject is living water.

This Samaritan woman may have had preconceived categories about the Messiah. You, too, may have preconceived ideas about who God accepts. You too might think: God will never accept me. I’m ashamed of my past.

Advantaged Nicodemus certainly had preconceived ideas about who Jesus. But Jesus did not fit into his categories and thus was not ready to receive truth from him, even though he knew Jesus was from God (John 3:3). But the woman’s preconceived categories melted away as she listened to this stranger, this Jesus reveal truth about himself.

The Samaritan Woman: An Evangelist

The significance of the woman’s final words is easy to miss. So, take another look.

She went back to her village and said to the people: “Come see… Could this man be the Christ?” (4:29)

Come and See

Only three individuals in John’s Gospel repeat the words, “Come and see.” Jesus used them in 1:39 with two would-be disciples. “Come and you will see.” Philip—the only disciple that Jesus explicitly calls to follow him in John’s Gospel (1:46)—said to Nathaniel, “Come and see.” Now, the Samaritan woman urges her own people to, “come see.

Come and see” is the phrase used by three missionaries: Jesus, Philip, and the Samaritan woman. Each person is depicted as an evangelist; ”come and see” are the words used by an evangelist, inviting people to consider Jesus for themselves and follow Him. In fact, “come and see” in John’s Gospel means, “Come and experience for yourself, see for yourself.”

So, are you ready to cast your vote? John, the writer, makes the decision for us. It’s the despised woman with a shameful past who wins the award: the Ideal Female Disciple.

The Samaritan woman, on the basis of her own experience with Jesus, was inviting her people to come and see for themselves. She wanted them to experience firsthand, Jesus, the giver of living water. Before you vote yourself out of contention to be accepted by God, examine her case. Her case can be your experience. I’d like you to use her example as your own template.

Shame to Fame: The Word of the Woman

Imagine. A despised woman with a shameful past becomes a missionary, an evangelist to her own people. She follows in Jesus’ footsteps. “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the word of the woman.” John 4: 39. The word of the woman. Just imagine. A despised woman, burdened down by disadvantages, shares a word about Jesus and brings hope and life to others. John depicts her as an evangelist on the same level as Philip. The word of the woman. Jesus turned her shame into fame. Imagine. This could be your story, too. Your shame into fame. Your word making a difference in someone’s else life. It can happen.

The Samaritan Woman: The Ideal Female Disciple

You don’t believe me? Then, think this through again: this Samaritan woman came to Jesus anchored down by many disadvantages. But when she met Jesus, she listened to him as he gradually revealed truth about himself. At each stage, she received him. He then gave her additional truth until she was persuaded that he was the giver of living water. But she didn’t stop there. She becomes the ideal female disciple of Jesus in John because she does what only Jesus and Philip did: invite others to experience Jesus. “Come and see.” She is a model disciple of Jesus. She could become your model, too. You, too, could become a model disciple of Jesus.

Yes, you, too, despite your disadvantages, despite your shame, can be a model disciple of Jesus. Other disadvantaged people with shame and blame in their conscience, will then listen to you say, “come and see” and also find hope.

That is my word to you. Go to Jesus with all of your disadvantages and shame. Ask him to reveal truth about himself to you. Accept what he says. He’ll show you more of himself. He’ll give you living water that you can share with others who are thirsty for acceptance and closeness to God. The shame and the blame can be washed away.

Your Past Does Not Control Your Future

So, do you have a shameful past? Do you feel anchored down by disadvantages? Do you see insurmountable barriers between you and God? Just as Jesus saw this woman’s shameful past, Jesus also sees your past—no doubt—but he also sees your future. He sees your tomorrow filled with complete forgiveness, meaningful service, full-acceptance, dignity, self-respect, and worthy accomplishment.

Seek Jesus.

So, seek Jesus at the well of your choice. If he asks you questions, answer him. He wants to know where you are and what you want. As he reveals painful truth about yourself, don’t try to hide it. He already knows. But he won’t use it against you. He won’t deepen the shame. He won’t kick when you are down. He knows that eternal life often comes to men and women through wounds from the past. Those wounds cry out for healing. He will heal those wounds. Embrace what he says to you about yourself and about him. Do that and he will shed more light about himself to you. Don’t quit until you drink the living water he provides.

The Samaritan woman did. She became the ideal female disciple in John’s Gospel. You too can become one of Jesus’ ideal disciples. You too can say to others: “Come and experience Jesus for yourself.” You too can become a missionary to your people. Your past does not have to control your future. Your disadvantages are not insurmountable barriers to a happy tomorrow. You too can trade in shame for fame.

Are You Thirsty?

Jesus said: “If anyone {yes, he said, “anyone,” even with shame in their past} is thirsty, let him continually come to me and keep on drinking. Whoever continually believes in me, as the Scriptures has said, streams of living water will continually flow from within him.” John 7:37-38

Part 3

The third and final (I think) portion of this blog post will focus on why Jesus did not marry the Samaritan woman. The thrice-repeated Old Testament courtship pattern of a male-meeting-a-woman-at-a-well in a foreign country resulted in a marriage of the man and the woman at the well (Isaac & Rebekah got married; Jacob & Rachel got married; Moses & Zipporah got married).

We could be forgiven, then, for expecting that the courtship scene of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at a well in (foreign) Samaria (John 4) would result in a marriage. Jesus is naturally expected to marry the Samaritan woman because his encounter at the well seems to fulfill the prior Old Testament pattern. Old Testament patterns, repeated in the major characters of the Old Testament, are usually fulfilled in Jesus. So, this particular courtship scene at the well is expected to be no different. We expect Jesus to fulfill the Old Testament pattern. He fulfills all the other Old Testament patterns. We expect him to get married to the woman at the well. In fact, he does fulfill the pattern, but only up to a certain point.

Jesus doesn’t marry her, despite the fact that the three earlier accounts in Genesis and Exodus (Abraham/Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel; Moses and Zipporah) do foreshadow Jesus in many ways. But one critical element (an element present in the three OT examples) in Jesus’ experience with the Samaritan woman at the well is missing. That non-negotiable but missing element prevented wedding bells from ringing in John 4. Jesus stayed single. And the woman became an evangelist in her own town and eventually in North Africa. More on the missing element in the courtship scene in part 3 of this blog post. Thank you for reading.

Tim Cole