Often I have heard preaching on the story of the woman at the well (John 4:4-42) which portrays the woman as basically a “bad” person. A lot of assumptions are made in order to reach this assessment of her, and I’d like to propose some different assumptions.
The woman, unfortunately we don’t know her name, comes to draw water at noon time. According to the practices of women of the day, this was not normal. Ordinarily women would draw water in the morning. All the women would be there about the same time before the heat of the day would set in, and we can imagine a bit of a confab, catching up with each other on what’s been happening in their lives.
One theory about why this woman draws water at noon is that she is not welcome there at the same time as the other women (based on the fact, we learn later, that she has had five husbands and is now with a man who is not her husband). There are other possibilities though. Perhaps she was attending a sick person that morning and had to wait until one of the other women relieved her before she could go to the well. Perhaps she herself was not feeling well. Or, perhaps, she was late because she had a divine appointment to meet her Savior that day.
While she visits with Jesus (alone!) he witnesses to her and then asks her to get her husband and bring him back. Here is where we find out, from Jesus, that she has had 5 husbands and the man she is currently with is not her husband. Is she a “bad” woman or a “fallen” woman because she has had 5 husbands? Not necessarily. Possibly one or two of those husbands died and the others divorced her. Even if all five of them divorced her, we don’t know why. But we do know that five men thought enough of her to marry her. There could be any number of reasons for a husband to put her aside, and one possibility is that she was infertile, something for which she would not be at fault.
What we can say definitely is that she has known love, rejection and loss. So Jesus is once again ministering to someone who is hurting, and he has thoughtfully chosen to do this while his disciples were away and he could speak with her privately.
Even though Jesus has told her everything she has ever done (v. 29), presumably both the good and the bad in her life, she doesn’t feel chastised or denigrated. Instead she is energized. So when the disciples return, the woman leaves her water jar to go back to town. That’s one excited woman who abandons her water jar at the well. She goes in to the village like a town crier and the people listen to her; then they follow her out to hear Jesus. If she were a disreputable woman, the people probably would not have listened to her or followed her out to hear Jesus.
Again, I don’t believe this woman was an outcast or a “bad” person who drew water at noon because she was not welcome by the other women. I believe she was a hurting woman who had a divine appointment with Jesus, a man who proved to her that he was at least a prophet and possibly the Messiah. Yes, she is with a man now who is not her husband, but we don't know the circumstances that led to that decision.
In the closing of the story, we learn that many Samaritans of that town believed because of the woman’s testimony; and many more believed because of Jesus’ own words.
So, this woman, a Samaritan, not a Jew, married 5 times, hurt and rejected, became an evangelist to her town even before the disciples were able to recognize that Samaritans deserved to be evangelized. Jesus often chose the most unlikely people. What a divine appointment they had that day.
For Reflection: Have I judged someone whose story I really don't know? Have I failed to recognize people who are hurting?
Let us pray. Jesus, give me eyes to see people the way you see them. Give me patience to listen to their stories. Help me to recognize who they can be, not just who they have been. I need to remember that all are called to your kingdom.
I started this website and blog on May 1, 2012. I am a Catholic who has been in ministry for many years. I first developed what I would call a close relationship with Jesus in the early 1970s. Ever since then I have been praying with people for healing and other needs. It is because I have seen so many of these prayers answered that I am so bold as to offer to pray for you individually through this website and phone line.