This post is a part of my Lenten series called “The Women of Lent”. For an explanation of the series and to see the past posts, check out the posts in the category “Women of Lent“.
She has no name.
She has the longest one on one conversation with Jesus recorded in the Bible, and she has no name. In fact, it seems that she does not have much of anything. She has no friends with her at the well, she has no husband, she has no dignity.
Maybe it’s easier to give everything to follow Jesus when you have nothing already.
But she does have one thing, one thing that is made abundantly clear by the fact that she is at the well during the hottest part of the day, alone.
She has shame.
She chose to do the physical labor of drawing water in the hot of noontime instead of going with the other women in the morning or at night. She is an outcast because of her public sin, and she is ashamed. She simply wants to be alone, to not be bothered by the gossips and the holier-than-thous who taunt her nightmares. So she draws her water at noon.
As she approaches the well, she sees him. Her peaceful time at the well is not going to be possible, because someone else is already there. And from the looks of him, he is Jewish, a Jew who follows the law and wears the tassels and might even be a rabbi. Even if he doesn’t know her shame, he will reject her, just like everyone else.
She walks over, quietly, head bowed, moving quickly so as to leave quickly. And then, surprisingly, he speaks. He asks for water, from her, a Samaritan woman, in broad daylight. And then, even more surprisingly, he offers her water.
She suspects he is making fun of her, but she does not understand. He does not know her shame, she should react with dignity. She should react like she knows something, like she is worth something.
“Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.”
There, she thinks. He will know that I know of our faith heritage. He will think that I am smart and faithful and worth something.
“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
She thinks for a moment about what this could mean. Water that makes me never thirst again? I would never have to walk out to this well in the heat of the day again! I would never have to venture outside the house. I would never have to bear my shame again. I thirst daily, so I parade forth in shame daily to this well to drink. If he can give me water that will cause me to never thirst again, I can forever hide my shame.
Immediately, she accepts. “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
She can taste the freedom, the freedom of never having to confess her sin, her shame again! She can stay home where she can forget, where no one looks at her like she is worthless. This man, he has saved her!
“Go, call your husband, and come here.”
Shame. He knows. How could he know? Is he a prophet? She feels the freedom slipping away. She can never be free from this shame. She is condemned to be looked down on because of what she has done. Perhaps… perhaps she can salvage a shred of dignity. He seems to be talking to her like she does not know the scriptures. She will show him what she knows.
“I know that the Messiah is coming (he who is called the Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things,” she breathes, barely audibly. She isn’t even sure she believes it herself, but she knows it is what the scriptures say.
He looks at her tenderly, despite her shame, despite her sin.
“I who speak to you am he,” he whispers back.
Other men come and she stands, mind reeling. His words are impossible, his words are unlikely, his words are true.
And faced with the truth, staring the Messiah in the face, the only thing that she has, the only thing she can give up to follow him is immediately flung away.
Because when you stare Jesus in the face, you are empowered to shed your shame.
She leaves her water and runs frantically into the town, where the people see her and start to turn away. One man spits in her direction and still she runs to the center where she climbs up on a step and shouts about a man who has told her all that she ever did, all that they already know and condemn her for. She says that he spoke to her. That he knew all she ever did and he spoke to her.
Not only does she face these people who have called her dirty, shameful, and broken, but she reminds them of “all that she ever did.”She is willing to openly bear her shame for the sake of them who have accused her. She will publicly confess her sins if they will come to see Jesus.
And they do. Because not even her accusers live without shame or guilt or sin. They, too, need a man who knows all that they ever did and speaks to them anyway. Like they are worth something.
Sometimes it feels like freedom in Jesus looks like hiding my shame deep inside, locked up and never leaving, far away from prying eyes. After all, isn’t it forgiven now? Living water means I don’t have to parade my shame out to the well every day, right?
But freedom under lock and key is no freedom at all. Jesus came with exposed scars to expose ours, to show that what is dark and dead in us has NO POWER over light and life in Him. Jesus frees us to live the exposed life, not the hermit life.
Let’s learn from the nameless woman at the well and give up shame this Lent, even knowing giving up shame means exposing it. Because we have the same testimony as the Samaritan woman:
“He knows all I did and He spoke to me anyway.
Do you think this could be the Messiah?”
I’m linking up with Velvet Ashes over at the Grove with their word prompt for the week: Shame. Check out the other beautiful and honest entries here.