First of all, if you have not read Chris’ comments yesterday about the WorldVision situation, I highly recommend you do so. They are beautiful and full of grace, but they also capture our little community very well and give insight into the people we seek to be. With that said, on to today…
I think I know this woman.
I’ve read the story enough to know who she is, what she’s all about. It’s one of my favorites in all of Scripture. I love the way Jesus talks to her, his words so full of mercy. He speaks truth to her in a manner that is so direct and yet so graceful.
I know her, this Samaritan woman in John 4. She’s sinful and ashamed, drawing water from the well at a different time than the other women. She’s shocked that a Jewish man would even speak to her in the first place. And she’s amazed when Jesus tells her her own story: Married 5 times and now living with a man who is not even her husband.
I know her, this pitiful and lonely woman Jesus reaches out to by the well. I’ve read her story. I’ve taught the passage in Bible classes and sermons.
But the thing is, when I actually read the passage, I find a much different woman than the one I’ve come to expect. She’s bold instead of timid. She’s theologically astute, not ignorant of history. She doesn’t shy away from her past, but faces it head on.
She becomes a missionary, not a victim. And I’ve misjudged her because of my own assumptions.
Just a few short points about her story —
First, it was not all that unusual for a woman to be remarried in that time. Women married young and often to men much older. If your husband died, it became a matter of survival — you entered the home of another man who could feed and care for your needs (often even a brother of your husband). This woman may have been extremely unlucky. Or perhaps terribly mistreated. Second, it was not uncommon, either, for a woman to be taken in by a man without marriage. There were often economic or legal advantages to bring a woman in without marrying her. Ultimately the power in that society lay completely in the hands of the men. Women often had to make tough decisions in order to survive.
The compelling thing is that although Jesus tells her her own story, he doesn’t deal with the sinfulness of her history. (And Jesus never seemed to have a problem confronting sin) He doesn’t bring it up to shame her. Rather, it becomes evidence of his divinity when she gives witness to him in the village. Jesus gives her ammunition for a mission, not fuel for her guilt.
It appears I have made assumptions about this woman and misjudged her in the process. I’ve met her on my own terms when Jesus met her right where she was.
This is a problem at the heart of how I interact with the world. I often bring my own faulty assumptions about people into my interactions. I think I know who they are and what they are about based on very little information. Which only forces them to do the same to me in return.
And instead of finding myself in conversation, I end up in conflict. Instead of meeting people at a table, we wage war on a battlefield.
We’ve seen this dynamic at work this week with the WorldVision brouhaha. We’ve seen battle lines and opinion pieces and public statements, but very little conversations between worlds that desperately need better interactions. We’ve seen the least of these in this world get caught up in the middle.
Very little good comes about when we choose to assume rather than meet people where they are.
The beauty of the story in John 4 is the end. We see the woman believing in Jesus and running around her village convincing others to do the same. We see a lives changed. All because a Jewish man sat down and actually met a Samaritan woman where she was. Because he opened lines of communication instead of drawing lines in the sand. Because he spoke and listened in love rather than spoke at her from an ivory tower.
May we all decide to follow the way of Jesus better today. May we have the courage to lay down our assumptions. May we not only speak in love, but listen with mercy, too. May we invite others in our world to a table instead of lobbing grenades on a battlefield.
Our world desperately needs it.