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).
It’s hard to resist the temptation to see Jesus’s truth-telling in this story as a holy “clapback” intended to emphasize the lower social status of the Samaritan woman he’s speaking with. I am also tempted to see this woman as hopelessly shame-filled and nothing more. Many of us have been taught to understand that even her act of getting water in the heat of the day is symptomatic of something being wrong with her. She’s hiding from others, we’re told. And more than that, we’re told she should be hiding. And when this well-known story turns toward its conclusion, we’re told that the woman invited her whole town to meet the man who “told [her] everything [she] ever did.” I don’t know about you, but I never think of Jesus telling this woman anything good about herself. We have a habit of filling in the unknowns about the woman in this encounter with an extension of what we already think is negative about her. She’s a wreck. End of story.
But what if there’s another way to understand this Samaritan woman and her life? Five husbands make it clear that she’s had difficulty. Is she widowed five times? Or perhaps used and abused? Whatever the story is, this is likely the reason she’s out getting water at a time where she could be alone. What if her effort to get water, regardless of what time of day it is, is less a sign of shame and more a sign of her will to survive? What if it’s a sign of emotional strength in the midst of struggle? Why are we so willing to see this woman, and others like her, through a lens of negativity and judgment?
When we’re up close with nature,
the beauty is undeniable.
But it can be harder to see the
beauty that comes from being created
by God when it comes to people.
“And God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31, NIV).
It is so easy to lose track of the “very good” of God’s creation. We can see the “very good” when we’re up close with nature. The beauty is undeniable. But it can be harder to see the beauty that comes from being created by God when it comes to people, especially people whose complicated, messy lives don’t fit our definition of “very good.”
The reality of the Fall and brokenness from all sides hits us every day. We can turn on the news to see the evidence, but we don’t have to. We see it in our neighborhoods and families. We feel it in ourselves. Things are not the way they should be. Even though Genesis tells us that our story with God starts out “very good,” sometimes brokenness is all we can see. Looking at others through the lens of a broken world can make it hard to see the image of God in people like the Samaritan woman.
Thankfully, the God of the “very good” creation knew that this woman was more than her struggle. Thankfully, he knows the same about us. It’s time for us to practice seeing God’s “very good” in others, no matter how they make us feel, or whether we approve of their lives. We don’t have a record of what else Jesus might have told this woman about “all she ever did.” But we don’t need it. We know that he loved her, and her whole town, to new life. And we know he’s called us to share this kind of love with everyone we know.
“And because of his words many more became believers” (John 4:41, NIV).