Every sermon I have heard about “the woman at the well” (John 4) has made her out to be some kind of notorious sinner. Now that I am studying and preaching through the book of John I have finally come to this text. I try to look at the scriptures in a fresh way each time I study, but most times you cannot help but bring your pre-conceived notions into your study time.
While dissecting the text and reading commentaries I expected to find that this woman was steeped in sin, and Jesus came to the rescue and saved her from that sin. What I found was quite different. After studying this passage, I found myself wanting to apologize to this 2000-year-old woman for judging her and speaking ill of her nearly every time that I had previously preached this text.
Most preachers have cited that because this woman was there at noon, she was trying to avoid the other ladies of the town. She was ostensibly trying to hide her loose sexual morals. Further into the story we find out that this woman has had five husbands and the man she is currently living with was not her husband. To 21st century Christians this is damning evidence of a loose sexual ethic. She must be a notorious sinner.
However what every preacher I have ever heard has failed to mention is that this account of Jesus with the woman at the well was meant to be contrasted with the previous one, Nicodemus and Jesus talking about being born again. Many preachers do not take into account that John is one of the cleverest writers in the Bible. The account of Jesus meeting with Nicodemus happened at nighttime, which is a Jewish symbol of unbelief. The account of the woman at the well happened at daytime, specifically at the sixth hour, when the sun shined the brightest, this is a Jewish symbol for belief. John is trying to contrast this ultra religious teacher of Israel who didn’t believe with a woman who did believe but would have had a repugnant status among Israelites.
The fact that Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well happened at the 6th hour has a much deeper significance than most preachers have ever gone deeply into. We know that in John’s gospel that John is concerned Jesus’ “hour” of his most important work on the cross. (John 2:4, 7:30, 8:20, 12:23, 13:1, 17:1)
In John 3 Jesus tells Nicodemus, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” In John 4 John alludes to when that will happen, John 4:6 shows this conversation happened at the 6th hour, the same time that Jesus was crucified (John 19:14). Could it be possible that this conversation is so much deeper and greater than whatever this woman may have done to offend God? I think this story points to something far deeper and greater, this woman is the living embodiment of what would be possible after the death and resurrection of Jesus. After all John 4:4 tells us that Jesus had to go through Samaria. Wait a second…no he didn’t. At the time there were plenty of other routs around Samaria. So why did Jesus have to travel to this despised place? I think he had to find her. He had just spoken to Nicodemus about being born again and he wasn’t necessary ready to accept what Jesus was teaching. I think Jesus wanted to show us what it looked like to be born again. This woman is what it looks like for God to “so love the world.” This woman’s five husbands didn’t mean she was sinful; there were many ways to lose a husband in the first century: war, disease, accidental death, or divorce and in this culture, divorce would not have been her call. Many scholars say that if divorce was the reason for the many husbands than this woman was more than likely barren.
Having a child was everything in this culture.
In her encounter with Jesus at that well, she was born again. In her spiritual rebirth she couldn’t help herself. She had to go to her town and tell everyone who she had just met, a man who told the truth about her life because he is the truth. In the process this woman who was probably barren, birthed many spiritual children. She deserves a redeemed place in church history and in our consciousness, her sin whatever it was, is not relevant to the story. She did something that the teacher of Israel wouldn’t do. She put her confidence and trusts in Jesus and became the first missionary to her town.
When you hear the story of this nameless woman. I want to challenge you to see her the way that Jesus saw her. A lone woman who felt she was valueless, who probably was depressed because of her sad existence. A woman who was so marginalized in society that she essentially didn’t matter to the world. She became a woman of high value. She was the first new birth of the new creation. The first who was truly on mission with Jesus.Share