The Suffering and Hope of the Woman at the Well
Today, and probably also in the time of the woman at the well John 4, we often judge people we don’t know unfairly. This is because we do not understand the struggles and difficulties that formed the structure of their lives.
But Jesus, in this Scripture, saw the woman for who she really was; he saw past her marital issues to her full potential.
And like the woman at the well, he also sees past our sinful ways to who we really are; he sees our full potential.
The Scripture does not Condemn Her
A lot of what is said about the lady today is pure conjecture; a fallen woman or a prostitute, it has been suggested. Although, it could have been that all of her five husbands died from natural causes.
Nevertheless, it was certainly an odd situation, even by today’s liberal standards, to have had five husbands and a current live-in lover.
But, the Scripture does not actually disparage her character in any way.
Call me naive, but Jesus seems to have been commending her for her truthfulness rather than condemning her for her marital status.
Whatever the truth of the situation, it is a mystery to us today how her life developed as it did, so I want to reflect on what we know about her as fact.
What we know about the Samarian woman
We can be sure that Jesus and the Samarian lady struck up a conversation at Jacobs Well in Samaria.
This in itself was most unusual because the Samarians and Jews had a long-standing conflict between them, and to put it bluntly, they could not stand the sight of each other.
But here he was, a Jewish Rabbi, talking to her – a Samarian and a woman in a long series of relationships. These things would have instantly downgraded her status in the eyes of the Jewish people and possibly her own people too.
Jesus must have seen something special in her, though, to stay with her for such a long time and explain so many truths to her, particularly in revealing he was the Messiah. Because he was not exactly shouting that from the rooftops at the time, his enemies would have probably paid a lot of money for the information.
So, as Jesus did not condemn her, neither can we, as she proved to be an honest, intelligent, generous and godly woman as she dashed off to tell others what she had learnt.
Sorrow and Loss
The reading from the letter to the Romans, Romans 5:1-11, says sometimes, during our suffering, we can see things more clearly, and through endurance, we produce character, and through character building, we find hope. The hope we have is in Jesus, and through his sacrifice on the cross, there will eventually be an end to our struggles and pain.
Many years ago, someone close to me who had suffered considerable loss in her life told me she had no hope left in Jesus. I was horrified. I said but why? You have always had hope. No, she said, I don’t anymore. This same conversation carried on for years in various forms and always concluded with me saying desperately, but it does not cost you anything to live in hope, and we have nothing to lose, because what else is there?
Then one day, she finally told me, I have been thinking over what you say about living in hope. Yes, I said, and what? She said, ‘you are right’.
We never spoke of it again, but I felt we were finally back on the same page again with our hope in Jesus.
She had endured and overcome her trials, and her character had adjusted to it. She then saw things more clearly and returned to the place where she had started, with the hope St Paul spoke of in his letter to the Romans.
The woman at the well must have also endured a lot in her life, and although the Scripture does not actually say she was a sinner or an outcast, I suspect there was a stigma attached to her, at the least.
Nevertheless, through her, Jesus clearly demonstrated that the gospel was for Jews and Gentiles, old and young, men and women, sinners and saints. He showed that God loves each one of us and wants us to drop our prejudices, accept his truth and spread the good news of Jesus.
The woman at the well instinctively did all these things and was the first Samarian to share his message of hope with others of her faith. Because of her, many were converted to Christianity.
What does this Mean for us Today?
As we live in a fallen world, sadly, we all suffer to some extent in life. In one way or another, misfortune finds us. However, we have our hope in Jesus, who sees through our pain and misery to who we really are and has faith in us achieving our full potential.
We can learn from the lady at the well, who seemed to have developed endurance and character despite her multiple losses and possible discrimination. Because she demonstrated very clearly that day, she had not been defeated by life and had hope in all that Jesus had taught her.
So like Jesus, let us be considerate of the sufferings of one another, but not only that, also be kind to ourselves as we experience the pain of our individual misfortunes.
Let us endure our hardships and build our characters.
But ultimately, let us share in our community, as did the Samarian lady, the hope we have of eventually overcoming all suffering through Christ’s death and resurrection.