This is the third in a four-part series on Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the well.
Jesus said to her, “Go, get your husband, and come back here.”
The woman replied, “I don’t have a husband.”
“You are right to say, ‘I don’t have a husband,’ ” Jesus answered. “You’ve had five husbands, and the man you are with now isn’t your husband. You’ve spoken the truth.”
The woman said, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you and your people say that it is necessary to worship in Jerusalem.”
Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the time is coming when you and your people will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You and your people worship what you don’t know; we worship what we know because salvation is from the Jews. But the time is coming—and is here!—when true worshippers will worship in spirit and truth. The Father looks for those who worship him this way. God is spirit, and it is necessary to worship God in spirit and truth.”
The woman said, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one who is called the Christ. When he comes, he will teach everything to us.”
Jesus said to her, “I Am—the one who speaks with you.”- John 4:16-26 (CEB)
The Samaritan woman lets down her guard and asks Jesus for the living water he offers. The conversation could have ended right here with Jesus telling her, her faith has saved her. Instead, Jesus takes a wild left turn and tells her to get her husband.
This is probably not what I’d do in a pastoral care situation, but Jesus knows more about this than I do. I can only think that he asks the woman to fetch her husband in order to break through to her pain. He wants her to name it. But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He says what the woman didn’t. She has had five husbands and is currently living with a man to whom she is not married.
I want to pause here for a minute.
The common reading here is a description of the woman’s shame. She is a sinner extraordinaire! But can we consider what it would be like to have five husbands with another on the way? She isn’t Elizabeth Taylor.
Jewish women (even Samaritans) didn’t go around arranging their own marriages. The men in her life probably created this situation. It could be that two or more of these marriages are levirate marriages – meaning her first husband died without a son, and then she was married to his brother. As much as we laugh at the ridiculous situation posed by the Sadducees of seven brothers, there could have been more than one here.
Then, either her father or father-in-law, who didn’t want to support her, could have married her off to anyone who would take her. She could have had one or more men divorce her. She doesn’t have any rights. If she hasn’t bore any children, which is a good assumption since she’s been married so many times, she has no value. She also has no source of support other than being married or the charity of her family.
We can be quick to jump to what a sinner this woman is, but doing so, we overlook her deep pain and shame. Barren and passed around, she has no one to care for her now or in her old age. Maybe Jesus was trying to lead her to confession, but I believe he was naming her fear, grief, and desperation.
Therefore, as Jesus says out loud her whole history, we shouldn’t hear it as an indictment but an acknowledgement of her agony. Rather than condemn her, Jesus honors the Samaritan woman (again) by naming her a truth-teller.
Realizing that Jesus is more than just some man, the Samaritan woman takes the opportunity to talk about worship. For us, her question seems small. But the question the Samaritan woman is asking is, “Man of God, I want to worship the Lord. Where must I worship?” This as a profession of faith and the desire to stand righteous before God.
The woman has told the truth about herself before Jesus. She’s acknowledged that Jesus is a person of God. She has asked for wisdom on how best God would like to be worshipped. And then we hear the words of the Spirit within her as she proclaims: I know that the Messiah is coming. Jesus responds with the truth of God’s presence right there by that noonday well in dusty Samaria: “I AM – the one who speaks with you.”
Spirit and truth are intimately connected to how vulnerable we are willing to be before God. Last week, we asked the questions of what it is we are thirsty for and where do we draw our water from — the noonday well or the spring of living water within us? In the same way, we are called to ask questions about what worship is to us and whether we are worshipping in spirit and truth.Spirit and truth are intimately connected to how vulnerable we are willing to be before God. Do we #worship in Spirit and #truth? Click To Tweet
I’m excited to announce my new book will be out next month!
Come to the Table: Communion Liturgies of Invitation to Celebrate and Experience the Love of God is a collection of communion liturgies inviting worshippers to experience and respond to the Gospel.