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 Bible is not misogynistic. Jesus, God in the flesh, continually challenged the societal and spiritual understandings of a woman’s purpose and value, advocating for her worth.
However, one could argue that we tend to interpret some of Jesus’ teachings in a misogynistic light.
Here is a classic example: the infamous Woman at the Well.
In certain Christian circles, “the Woman at the Well” is a well-known story. It occurs in the beginning of Jesus’ ministry; and can be found in the fourth chapter of the New Testament book of John.
As the story goes, Jesus was on his way to Galilee; and in order to get there, he had to pass through a foreign land – Samaria. About halfway, Jesus got thirsty, as would any man traveling by foot in the hot Middle Eastern heat, (even a man who is fully God). He strategically stopped at a historical landmark: Jacob’s well. Shortly after, a Samaritan woman came to draw water.
Jesus strikes up a conversation with the Samaritan woman by asking her for a drink. She hesitates to respond; because she knows that He is both a man and a Jew – thus, this conversation should not be happening. Their racial and gender differences are more than enough to steer them into careening silence.
But Jesus isn’t bothered.
He continues to initiate an intimate conversation with her, eventually revealing his preexisting knowledge of some incredibly telling details about her personal life – she had five husbands. And the man she’s with now? That’s not her husband. Jesus already knew.
We’ve now come to the most popular part of the story: the five husbands. When teaching on this text, we often over-estimate the importance of the woman’s sin. We will zero in on her shortcomings; exploiting her shame to make them feel better about our own sin – all in an attempt to somehow quantify God’s grace. “Who is this God that can even forgive a woman with five husbands. What grace!”
Or, we’ll find that the Samaritan woman often joins the long, misconstrued list of sinners who have received the forgiveness of God. She’ll join the ranks of Mary Magdalene, Rahab, the woman with the alabaster jar…you get the picture.
Sadly, we’ve missed the point.
Highlighting the Samaritan woman’s sin is a both harmful and inaccurate analysis of God’s word. Ultimately, Jesus initiated conversation with her not to just forgive her – but to fulfill her. Jesus asked the woman to give him a drink; not for the purpose of fulfilling his natural thirst, but to spark a conversation that would ultimately fulfill her spiritual thirst. He knew that going from husband to husband was her desperate attempt to quench many longings for intimacy, for validation, for truth, for love – God-given desires, given to us so that we might be led to Him. Thirsts and longings that are not inherently sinful, but that can never be fully satisfied while continuing to live in sin.
Back to the story.
Now, she’s curious. This man, whom she just met, already knows everything she’s done. She must’ve figured, “Well, I’ll at least listen to him!”
Jesus then continues to prophesy of the coming reality of spiritual worship and the promised future when racial, ethnic, and gender divides will cease to exist. Though his words confuse her, she knows there’s truth to them. “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming,” she assured Jesus. “When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”
Could it be true? Yes, yes! He is who He says He is!
She then went into downtown Samaria and told everyone she knew about the man she had met who told her everything she had ever done. And because of her testimony, the Samaritans asked Jesus to stay in their town and teach. He obliged.
The son of God stayed in a forbidden land for 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 4:41-42)
This fateful, groundbreaking social interaction did not just lead to the forgiveness of one, but of many. Because of her faith, rivers of living water rushed into all of Samaria; quenching the thirst of many. Please – let us not forget this part of the story.
The Woman at the Well is not the woman with five husbands. Sure, when Jesus met her, that was her identity.
But after she encountered Jesus, she became the woman who brought salvation to Samaria.
Because that’s how powerful an encounter with Jesus can be.