Redeeming the woman at the well

In John 4, we read the story of Jesus’ encounter with a Samaritan woman at midday at a well. This woman is almost always thought of as a prostitute. There is nothing in Scripture that indicates this. Rather, it is a product of a male-dominated culture and reading of the Bible that sees her as a sinner and not a victim.

This woman had had multiple husbands. Is it possible that in a small community/village that the local prostitute would have had multiple husbands? One maybe. Two at a stretch. But not five. Seriously: pause to consider this. Even in our modern permissive society, prostitutes do not get married five times. This is an impossibility in the rural community Jesus encountered.

No, the very much more likely scenario (I’d say 100% only possible scenario) is that she was a widow five times over. For some reason, her five husbands had died. (These could not have been divorces, for the same reason of logic – but also because the religious law prohibited more than two divorces for a woman). Of course no-one would marry her now. Would you?

Jesus amazes this woman by not only showing knowledge of her five husbands, but also her current living arrangements. The man she was staying with was most likely a benevolent uncle or family member who was giving her shelter in some back room, and acting as her protector. In no way does Jesus suggest this arrangement was anything untoward. There is no hint of condemnation and no mention of sin in this passage. Jesus never condemns her for anything. In fact, for us to think of her as anything other than a tragic victim to whom Jesus showed compassion and love illustrates how badly screwed up our view of women, sexuality and culture has become.

This was a woman who had faced tragedy and horror in her life. Now ostracised from her community, she encounters Jesus. He knows her. He loves her anyway. And he gives her the dignity and honour of being the one to announce the coming of the Messiah to her people. What a story.

That should be a lesson to all who think that their views of Scripture and what is going on in the Bible are completely without fault or need of updating or questioning. What else have you misunderstood because of your cultural conditioning?

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