My friend Beth texted me a picture of the Samaritan Woman and Jesus talking at the well that she found in her great-grandmother’s Bible. She knows how much I love this story and respect the woman’s courage to speak up for herself and for her people. This portrait, by Anton Laurids Johannes Dorph, depicts a conversation between two unlikely people and is one that I have not seen before. It is rich with meaning and begs to me to unpack some of the imagery surrounding this uncharacteristic meeting at the well.
Another aspect of this image that stands out to me is the way she is dressed. The artist robed her completely in white, which is a positive sign of purity, innocence and goodness. Too often I have heard sermons preached about her five failed marriages, which then leads to how Jesus would offer her forgiveness. But if you read the text and let go of all of the negative images that have surrounded her for so many years, you would read that not once does Jesus require her to ask for forgiveness or offer forgiveness of her sins. He never judged her but treated her as an equal by engaging her in an intellectual and religious conversation. Ironically enough, the color white also represents a successful beginning, which I think is fitting given Jesus was a Jewish man speaking with a despised Samaritan woman. They had a new understanding of each other and better yet, this meeting is the beginning of her ministry to bring her people to meet the Messiah?
Lastly in this photo, I notice the jug that stands between them. According to the story, this woman came to draw water during the hottest part of the day. While the biblical text does not give us the reason why she is there at midday, many theologians have concluded that this is a sign that she was an outcast in her community mainly because of her husbands. We are given no reason why she has had five husbands. In this patriarchal world, a husband could divorce his wife for any reason such as burning his toast. Okay so they didn’t have toasters however you get my drift. WE don’t know if her husbands died in war, from disease or even by accident. One thing is for sure; women were more or less the property of their husbands and had few options for taking care of their needs like food and shelter. Again too many times people jump to the conclusion that she is no better than a prostitute. The scripture does not indicate that at all. This woman of Samaria is well-versed in protocol between men and women, Jews and Samaritans and even religious practices. What this conversation shows me is the extravagant love that Jesus has for all people regardless of gender, race, religion or economic status.
The Samaritan woman came to the well for water but in the end left her water jar to run into the town to proclaim that she may just have met the great I Am. The text describes it like this, “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him (Jesus) because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers” (John 4:39-41). The jar in this picture stands large between them however after their unusual and unexpected conversation the world changed for both of them. Through Jesus this nameless woman gained her voice to proclaim the Messiah to her people! In turn, this Samaritan woman brought her people to meet Jesus and experience his saving grace. This picture is my inspiration to follow the example of Christ and the woman to speak for those who cannot speak and empower others to find their voices.