Grace and Peace to you.
The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, “I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say….”
Women did not have the power to marry or to divorce. That was the discretion of the man. So she has been used five times, and is being used now again. But Jesus neither judges her past nor dwells on her situation. He names her pain, but allows her to set the agenda for their conversation. She doesn’t want to talk about the men in her life. She wants to talk about God. So they do.
For yeas she has been ignored, belittled, and treated as if she had no worthy ideas or valid perspective. She has been treated as if she is not worthy of another’s attention or fidelity. She is ostracized by her community (she can’t go to the well ’till noon, at the bottom of the village pecking order for morning water). But now, at last, here is someone—a man, no less, and a Jewish rabbi!—who listens to her, who attends, not to what he thinks of her, but to what she is actually saying. He doesn’t just tolerate her. He truly, deeply and wholly accepts her, and all of who she is. I imagine at some point that mingled with the water from the well and the living stream in her heart that Jesus promises are her tears of joy and gratitude.
We all have our secret burdens of pain, shame or despair. We all have our secret struggles, our failures, our wandering journeys. We have been misunderstood, judged, labeled. Aren’t we all hungry for acceptance, in which we can just be ourselves without either pretending we’re perfect or dwelling on our wounds? The one single most remarkable thing about the church I serve, that which I am most proud of them for, is that they are a safe place for people whose lives are broken.
This is not just lovely; it’s holy. This willingness to embrace people is an embodiment of God’s grace. God receives us without labels, without judgment, without distraction, and attends to our hearts. We get self-conscious before God and start listing our strengths and weaknesses and God says, “Yeah, so? I love you.”
What we are all most thirsty for is to belong. Pray that you might offer a safe place for all others, for those whom even you judge harshly. May they find in your presence the warm, gentle embrace of God. Listen to them.
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes