Why was the woman at the well a turning point for women, not only in Christianity but also in the world? The “woman at the well” or the story of the Samaritan Woman at the Well is a well known story where Jesus reveals Who He is to the woman, but there is a much deeper meaning than you might imagine to this encounter. The story can be read in John chapter 4 and finds Jesus speaking to a woman. Men of the first century rarely spoke to women at all. In fact, women at the time and in that culture were considered property and were not given any social status. They could not vote, they could not go into the inner sanctuary, they had no voice in the home, and they were divorced at the drop of a hat. The very fact that the women got the water for the family, including the men, shows that they were treated like slaves. They were regarded as a servant more than a member of the family.
Samaritans were considered “half-breeds” to the Jews. They were a mix of Jewish and Pagan races that were utterly despised. They were treated like the children of Native Americans who had married whites. There was such hate and animosity toward the Samaritans that when the Jews traveled in Judea, they went around Samaria just to avoid entering that land; even if it took them well out of the way.
Another shocking thing was that Jesus, a holy man to be sure, was speaking with a woman of ill repute. The reason that she was fetching water at high noon – the heat of the day – was because she wanted to avoid the other women who would have shamed her to scorn for being a prostitute and the fact that she had been married many times. What was even worse was that this unmarried woman was presently living with a man. Even for the Samaritans, this was an abomination. The Samaritan Woman had to get her water at the hottest time of the day, whereas the majority of the women got their water in the early morning, before the heat set in. The social stigma that this woman must have endured in the community must have been demeaning. She must have been ostracized by all who lived there, so imagine her surprise when Jesus came up and spoke directly to her. He even called her “woman” which was a sign of respect and dignity not found anywhere at that time.
The Good Samaritan
To show you how the Jews felt about Samaritans Jesus told a parable called The Good Samaritan. This parable is a parallel about how the Jews would have avoided helping any Samaritan, regardless of their desperate situation. Luke 10:30-37 gives the account:
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
This parable must have not only shocked the Jewish leadership but it must have convicted their conscience. The fact that a Samaritan helped the injured man and took care of his wounds and even paid to provide him shelter was unthinkable to the Jews. A priest (presumably a Jewish High Priest) who surely would have showed compassion to a stranger (even taught in the Old Testament) went out of his way to avoid the man. A Levite, descended from the Levitical Priesthood family, also took the long way around to avoid even coming near, not to mention, helping the man. Who helped the man? A Samaritan of all people! This Samaritan paid the innkeeper a denarii, which at that time, was an entire days’ wage, and he also promised to cover any additional expenses that the injured man might have incurred while staying at the inn. So the Samaritan was fulfilling one of the two greatest commandments given by Jesus: To love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. The Jewish religious leaders would have never considered a Samaritan as either good or as a neighbor – rather they considered them an arch enemy that was utterly despised.
Christianity and Women
For centuries, women in nearly every single culture have been regarded as property and could be killed or divorced for even a minor infraction. If a woman spoke in public, she could be beaten. If she ruined an evening meal, she could be divorced. If the husband decided that he didn’t love his wife anymore, he could simply write her an easy bill of divorce – and the courts (male dominated) would always side with the husband in granting it. Thus, women had no social status and no economic standing. Men considered livestock as more important than the women. But Christianity was different. It raised the status of women to that of being co-heirs in salvation and of equal status before God. The New Testament speaks of loving women sacrificially – as Christ loved the church. This was certainly not the case in the cultures and nations of that time and for countless eons of time before.
For the first time in nearly every world religion and in all of human history, women were elevated to their rightful place and status; of being co-heirs in society and co-heirs in status. God considers women of equal importance to men. God plays no favorites. He is no respecter of persons or gender. Even if there are still places in the world where women are considered inferior and unequal, with God they are on level ground with men. Christianity is the first religion in the world to esteem women worthy of value and rightfully holding a place of honor. Jesus died for women just as he did for men. There is no partiality with God so there should be no partiality in the way men treat women.
We must see women as men’s equals and as being so precious to God that He provided the supreme sacrifice for them too. The fact that women were the first to witness the resurrected Christ is not trivial. God is saying that women are worthy of being respected and as viable witnesses. In the Jewish culture and still in many parts of the world, women can not drive a car, they can not speak in public, and they can not even testify or bring a charge against someone in a court of law. God has changed all that. It is sad that men are slow to change in much of the world. God had it right all along. God took one of Adam’s ribs in creating woman. To me, this signifies that they are to be side by side with men. It is the world that needs help in catching up to the unconditional love and equal treatment of women that God gives them. That is why Jesus spoke to the Samaritan Woman at the Well. That is why men must also be equally respectful to women. It is what God would have us do.
New International Bible (NIV)
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