The Real Woman at the Well

How like Jesus to handpick the lost, discarded, and brokenhearted. A fascinating new way to experience an old but true story. ◊

Most people are familiar with the Bible story of Jesus meeting the woman at the well. It’s early in Jesus’ 3-year ministry and takes place while he’s traveling through Samaria, the city/region about 40 miles north of Jerusalem. This fascinating encounter is only found in the New Testament book of John (4:7-42).

As Jesus is tired from traveling on this trip back to Galilee, he stops midday at a well for some water. His disciples have left him at the well while they go into town to buy some food. (v. 8) Jesus sees a woman alone at the well, a despised Samaritan no less. (Note: Samaritans were a mixed people of Assyrian and Jewish blood since the invasion of the Northern Kingdom in 722 BC. Over the centuries the intermarried people formed a hybrid group called the Samaritans. That the Jews of Jesus’ day did not accept them as their neighbors was the basis on which Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37.)

Much to the woman’s surprise, Jesus requests a drink of water and then engages her in an intriguing conversation that leaves her curious and then astounded as she realizes with whom she is speaking. She goes away a changed woman who shares with many others her first-hand testimony to having met the “Savior of the world.” (v. 42)

Her Backstory?
This past spring while visiting our grandchildren in Tennessee, we attended a local youth ballet dance recital that was depicting the story of the Woman at the Well.The Christian producers created a memorable program based on this common Bible story. They took creative license and focused on what could have been the backstory of this Samaritan woman who remarkably found herself face-to-face with Jesus at a very unremarkable time of her life.

As the woman is prophetically exposed by Jesus as having had 5 husbands – “and he whom you now have is not your husband…” (v. 18) – we are left to only imagine that she had lived a sad and sordid life, most likely with a history of unhealthy choices regarding men and relationships. While the Scriptures do not give us this level of detail, we might accurately suspect that at the time she encounters Jesus she was very likely “lost” physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

We might consider all the poor and the unwanted that Jesus encountered in His travels.

This beautiful little ballet production did more than make me consider. By starting the woman’s story depicting her as a young child in a happy and thriving family with a loving mother and father and dancing in the arms of her loving father, I was reminded of the innocence and joy of all little children. When her father falls ill and dies while she is still a young girl, we see her and her sad mother attempt to make it alone in an unrelenting world. Soon her mother falls into darkness and leaves the young teenager alone and destitute.

By the time of the show’s Intermission we find the young girl dancing back and forth in angst between figures of light and dark pushing and pulling her in all directions. The second half opens with the young woman mired in darkness and moving in and around male figures representing her broken life and dependence on men who may not have had her best interest at heart.

The Real Encounter
At this point of her life’s despairing routine, the woman converses with this man named Jesus who offers her “living water”:

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” (v. 10-15)

Jesus prophesies to her that soon all true worshipers (Jews and Samaritan/Gentiles alike) will worship God the Father “in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (v. 23-24)

The woman knows her Jewish history. She tells Jesus that “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Jesus drops the bombshell on her when He declares: “I, the one speaking to you—I Am He.” (v. 25-26)

Poetic Justice
The ballet story showed only a brief interlude dance between Jesus and the woman reminiscent of her childhood dance in the arms of her earthly father. Now in the loving arms of her Heavenly Father she emerges in the final triumphant dance scenes as an emboldened and revitalized woman with a newfound identity engaging and uplifting her local community with hope, joy, and encouragement.

And “Many Samaritans from that city believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony.” (v. 39)

How like Jesus/God to handpick the lost, discarded and brokenhearted. Whether through our own or others’ mistakes or misfortune, we are all of us lost but loved and welcomed by a loving Father who offers us living water and a new life of hope and promise.

Have you tasted of this Living Water?
So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers. They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” – John 4:40-42

1 Trinity Arts Center, The Woman at the Well, dance recital, Johnson City, TN, Jamin Rathbun and Brooke Rathbun, producers. 2018.

Categories: Abundant Living, Faith, Forgiveness, Jesus, Suffering

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