Hi, Rob here. A few weeks ago I wrote this post on the connection between shame and the prodigal son. In the story, the father of the wayward son was more interested in restoration of sonship and the removal of shame than statements of forgiveness. This is because he had already forgiven the son. It got me thinking about how many other stories we may have misinterpreted over the years because we haven’t seen the removal of shame and the bestowing of honour as a relevant category.
Let’s take a look at the story of the Samaritan woman in John 4. Let’s begin with the obvious fact that as a Jewish man it was highly improper for Jesus to sit down and have a one-on-one with either a Samaritan or a woman. To do both at the same time is scandalous and brilliant. Samaritans were seen as followers of false religion and an impure race. They were unclean and to be avoided. Women were seen as a snare, uneducated and inferior. By talking to this woman, it shows us that Jesus’ main job wasn’t to defend Jewish norms and practices but to create a new humanity where ‘outsiders’ like the Samaritan women would be welcomed and honoured. So Jesus broke through a racial barrier and a patriarchal barrier simply by talking with this woman. I love the way John describes the reaction of the disciples when they come back from town. They were “surprised to find him talking with a woman.” What an understatement!
The other issue with this woman has been her so-called immorality. The fact that she has had 5 husbands and her current beau is not her husband has led many interpreters to say that she’s a harlot or sexually promiscuous. This strikes me as a very sexist response. The fact is that women had very little rights in those days. They certainly weren’t the ones who instigated divorce. This woman, in fact, had been rejected 5 times! The man she was with wouldn’t even deign to marry her. There’s no doubt that this woman carried shame on her heavily. She was fetching water at the hottest time of the day to avoid the crowds. But she wasn’t full of shame because of her scandalous behaviour. The shame was that of rejection and unworthiness. She was possibly divorced because she couldn’t bear children which would add another layer of shame upon her. Jesus isn’t talking to a harlot, but a broken woman filled with feelings of unworthiness. This is what makes it beautiful.
He then talks to her about living water. He tells her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water…Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink 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 (John 4:10, 13-14).” He’s telling her that her source of life doesn’t need to be others opinions, past rejections, false religion or dodgy men. Jesus himself is her source of life. She’s a bit confused and a bit defensive about her past and her people but Jesus keeps pursuing her heart. He talks to her about a coming time when true worshippers will worship God in spirit and in truth wherever they are. This is an invitation to her. She responds by revealing her hope in a coming Messiah. Jesus responds to her heartfelt desire by revealing himself as that Messiah!
Jesus has seen this woman’s shame. He relentlessly pursued her heart until her desire for the Messiah was revealed. He accepted her as she was invited her into a story that was bigger than all her past rejections and shame. He broke past her barriers of defensiveness and pain until he reached into her deeper desire for all that God had to offer. How awesome! How beautiful! how redemptive! She then became the 1st missionary for Jesus, leading her fellow Samaritans to faith in Christ. She now told a new story about a God who knew her, loved her and rescued her. Rejection became acceptance and shame was replaced by grace.
How about you? The shame of rejection is still a powerful force in our world. We’ve all felt it, experienced its impact. Jesus comes to rescue us from it; to rescue us from the lies associated with it. He comes to break down our barriers and defensive postures. He invites us to accept him, gain life in him and become springs of living water. Amen. Come into our hearts Jesus, rescue us from self-condemnation and breathe your love and life into us. Blessings