John 4 is my favorite chapter in this Gospel. There’s SOOO much going on – Jesus choosing to go where he socially/culturally shouldn’t (v.4), the woman (who should’ve been given a name IMHO) and all she represents as a marginalized Samaritan (v.7), the deep theological conversation about worship (starting at v. 21), this woman arguably becoming the first evangelist of the Gospel to the Samaritans (v.29), and so much more! We could spend a month unpacking all that this chapter offers us. And the thing I love the most about this chapter is the way it moves this woman from marginalized to dignified simply because she carries the message.
I have heard many messages and even given some myself on the issue of the Samaritan woman’s relational status (starting at v.16). Some believe she’s a promiscuous woman, others believe she’s a victim of 1st Century patriarchy; and recently I heard that she may be an archetype for the polytheistic religious practices of her region. All agree that this woman’s backstory is complex. So why is it that when she runs back home telling of a man who ‘told me everything I ever did,’ the people (i.e. the men) of her village just believe her at the first hearing? If she had to convince these people that Jesus was special, I feel like John would’ve told us. But it seems like she speaks, and the people (again, probably a majority are men) just believe her and go looking for Jesus.
I’m making a big deal about this because I’m not sure there are many places in the New Testament where people hear the message of Jesus and get on board with very little resistance. So the fact that this unnamed, marginalized, complex Samaritan turns out to be a successful evangelist should not be lost on us. It’s the turn in the story that no one could’ve predicted when Jesus asked her for a drink of water. I’ll say it again – I’m amazed and heartened that the people (i.e. the men) of her village believe her. This is one of the great legacies of Jesus’ Gospel movement: countless women are given a voice in a society that deemed them less than men; multitudes of named and unnamed, both single and married women are given a platform and believed as they carried the message of God’s grace through Jesus. This can not be overstated.
It’s not a complete straight line from John 4 to today’s #MeToo Movement; but there are some details that could help followers of Jesus reflect well. I’ll just give you my personal reflection and point of conviction: am I like the people in the Samaritan village who found it easy to believe this woman? Some would argue that she wasn’t talking about sexual assault or oppression; she was talking about Jesus and that’s why they believed her. But I can’t skip over the fact that this was not a woman who had status in her community – she had a story that caused her to keep her distance. And yet, they listened to her and they believed her. John wants us to believe that this village of Samaritans were preconditioned to listen to a marginalized woman. They weren’t like Jesus’ disciples who kept a safe distance (v.27).
Who am I more like – the Samaritan villagers (mostly men) or the disciples? Do I believe the women in my world? Am I open to how the Gospel and its biblical stories might have a problem if I don’t listen and believe women? Upon reflection, I think John 4 has much to show us that could inform our Gospel-driven response to the #MeToo movement and the overall voice and role of women in the church and society.
So here’s the challenge – stir up your spiritual imagination and go back to the John 4 well. Watch how Jesus listens to the Samaritan woman and humanizes her as a counter-cultural act. Then travel with that woman back to her village, ignoring the distant disciples and pay attention to the people who listen and believe her. Allow these sacred scenes to give you wisdom as to how you should live into this critical moment.