It’s Friday night. I’ve been working and what I really want to do is lie down and binge watch West Wing.
But instead I am here, typing.
I just listened straight through Bethany Barnard’s new album three times in a row. The fifth song is called “At the Well.” It has a sort of haunting sound to it (in a good way), so haunting that it compelled me to forgo my binge watching for the evening and write this instead.
Have you ever been continuously drawn to a certain passage in scripture but you weren’t sure why? That’s how John 4 has been for me. I wrote a devo on it for She Reads Truth a while back and ever since, I keep coming back to it. Thinking about it. Wondering about it.
That Samaritan woman at the well.
And tonight as I listened to that song (three times), I remembered it again. Go back to the passage, I heard my soul urge. Ask me why you’ve been drawn to it. And it hit me. Just like that.
To recap, the story of the woman at the well (John 4:1-30) occurs when Jesus is on his way from Judea to Galilee. He stops at a well in a city in Samaria and asks a woman to give him a drink. They proceed to have a pretty amazing conversation. Go read it and then come back.
When I was studying this story for She Reads Truth, I learned that Jesus breaks three cultural barriers of his time in order to speak to this woman:
- He is speaking to a woman, and traditionally, Jewish men were not to be seen conversing with women.
- He is speaking to a Samaritan, and as the scripture says, Jews had no dealings with Samaritans at the time (v. 9).
- He is speaking to a woman he knows is an “adulteress.” A woman who has had more than one husband and was now with a man she wasn’t married to.
Jesus didn’t have to be in Samaria that day. Because the Jews and the Samaritans didn’t get along, most Jews would go around Samaria if they were traveling somewhere, avoiding it if at all possible. The HCSB commentary says, “…rabbis considered Samaritans to be in a continual state of uncleanliness.”
It’s also particularly strange that Jesus is talking to a woman. As the same commentary says about verse 27, “The disciples’ amazement that Jesus was talking with a woman stemmed from the common Jewish teaching that talking too much to a woman, even one’s wife, was a waste of time, diverting one’s attention from the study of scripture and reflection of God.”
It’s worth noting here that Jesus pursues the conversation with the woman, not the other way around, and he keeps pursuing it until he reveals who he is:
“I know that the Messiah is coming…”
“I who speak to you am He.” (vv. 25-26)
Remember, at that time Jesus wasn’t going around telling everybody who he was. This is very significant.
I have been needing something from God lately. I’ve been needing him to explain to me why the faith I believe in appears to have been turned upside-down and twisted into something I don’t recognize by people touting the identity of “evangelical,” and, in the name of Jesus, trying their hardest to further marginalize the already marginalized.
I have felt so put off by my own religious affiliation I threatened to my mom on the phone the other day that I was going to quit. Just evangelicalism leave. Possibly forever.
I knew, of course I knew, that a president making executive orders and a handful of big evangelical names supporting those were not the actual true voice of my religion. But it felt that way. It felt like they were hijacking what I believe and know to be true about Jesus and molding it into this unrecognizable thing. This weird, sad, patriotic thing disguised as “safety and security.”
And now I know why John 4 has been rumbling. I told God I needed something. I needed to know what He thought about this, what He was going to do about this and here, I see it.
Jesus took who no one else wanted—a woman a Samaritan—looked her in the eye and offered her his very self, the living water. He turned it upside-down. And he let his disciples see it—that cultural norms and discriminatory attitudes will not hold him back. That the gospel does not push away, it moves toward. It doesn’t build barriers, it crashes through them. At all costs. At the cost.
I don’t like this tendency of mine to let others’ voices get loud and tell me who I am and who everybody else is. As if the loudest one on TV wins, and I just have to deal with it. But the reality for us right now is that we are going to have to fight for this. As Christians, we are going to have to consistently come back to the well, to the one who knows us, to the truth that lies underneath. Because not much of it is at the surface right now. We will have to be diligent at reminding ourselves and each other, as the voices roar, that the Jesus some claim to serve is not the Jesus we serve.
The Jesus we serve is holding the faces of the unclean.
It was not a practical answer. God did not tell me how I was going to solve all of this. Instead, He told me He is with me in it. He is with us. And that is what I needed. Because the disbelief and the despair had silenced me, and I needed to know that the same one who drew near her, draws near me, and all of us. And he isn’t going to stop.
P.S. If you are looking for a practical way to help refugees during all of this, check out Preemptive Love Coalition. They are the rock stars of my life right now.
And, I was really inspired by this last week, written by Sharon Hodde Miller: Evangelicals and the Loss of Prophetic Imagination.