Of all the women in scripture, I think I might have been closest friends with the Samaritan woman. Her story has been recited over and over again to reveal the depths of the Lord’s understanding of our chronology and character. It’s been shared to teach us about His overwhelming compassion, forgiveness, mercy, and love. We’re taught about all that Jesus did on the day He met her. He traveled through a forbidden area, was alone with and talked to a woman in broad daylight, and then changed His travel plans and stayed in her village – a Samaritan community – for two days. What we’re often taught about her is less becoming. She’s a woman with an unsavory past and a questionable present who wonders about her future until Jesus comes along and sets things right.
I think there’s more to her story—and she is far more than we imagined. She has words to share about using our words.
We don’t know why five men would have chosen to take her as a wife and then dispose of her. There are no courthouse records to view, no tear-stained journals or local newspapers to provide details of the moments that led to their decisions to leave. The laws of the land wouldn’t have allowed her to be the one to file the papers; in fact, each husband could have chosen to walk away for any number of reasons. We don’t know if any of her husbands died and left her alone. We don’t know if she was unable to have children. We don’t know if she or her spouses were unfaithful. We simply know that her story was one of broken story upon broken story—so many breaks, perhaps, that she had given up on the idea of a happily ever after.
The Samaritan woman was industrious and smart. Despite the brokenness that had pushed her away from community with other women gathering water in the cool of the day, she was determined to tend to her home and her life. And it was in the midday heat and the dust where she met Jesus. He asked for a simple drink of water, and her concern was immediate. She didn’t refuse Him the request, but she quickly warned Him of the danger of their interchange. “Sir, what you’re doing is against the law,” she said. Jesus just smiled, and their discussion continued.
He talked to her of living water, of hope and healing. It wasn’t language unfamiliar to her. She had listened as the ancient scrolls were read and stories recited about a God who was faithful to sustain. She knew of holy places, and she knew what it meant to bow low to the Lord most high. She knew Messiah was coming, and she prayed for that day to arrive. She may have seen Jesus first as a con man or a fool, someone trying to take advantage of her and her people. After all, battles had raged for centuries between Samaritans and Jews about birthright and religion and politics.
And then, Jesus reveals the most personal of things to the Samaritan woman. He speaks to her brokenness. “I know the road you’ve walked,” He said. “I know there have been beginnings with ravaged endings, and I know you’re now afraid to even embrace the idea of a love that could last. I know what’s been said about you, and I know what words are embossed on your heart right now. I know how that heart aches when it considers love. And woman, I see all the life that longs to be lived in you.
“Love, look. It’s me. Messiah. I’m right here. For you.”
She was unafraid to ask questions, unafraid to speak, unafraid to wonder and imagine. Jesus didn’t condemn her or dissuade her from any of it. In fact, He delighted in it. He knew not only her brokenness but her beauty. He knew not only what was shattered within her but what was glorious about her. He knew that the voice firing questions would soon speak—and set the world ablaze.
The Samaritan woman isn’t a story of a bad girl busted. It’s the story of you and me. It’s the story of unfinished chapters and starts and stops and starts again. It’s the story of resignation and isolation and wondering if our voice has any purpose at all. It’s the story of all the questions we carry and the biggest question of all: does any of it really matter? Her story gives our story permission to use our words.
The woman who met Jesus at a well at noon became a missionary in the cool of the day. The woman unafraid to speak truth to Jesus became the woman unafraid to share truth with her community. She is an encourager to not be afraid to use our words, to not be afraid to ask the hard questions, to not be afraid to let our stories be known because within them are God’s redemption stories waiting to be revealed.