“Come see a man who knew all about the things I did,
who knows me inside and out.
Do you think this could be the Messiah?”
What I Found at the Well
I wasn’t always this way: a pariah, an outcast from society, cut off from my children, forgotten by those I once loved. Now, I live day to day. Then, I had a future. Hopes. Dreams.
When I was a young girl, I dreamed of the day when I would be the one in the white dress. I would be the one swept away by the dashing and gentle man. I would be the one celebrated, congratulated. The young girls would sing and dance around me.
I remember when my fortunes began to turn. As a woman in a man’s world, it wasn’t like I had much to say in the matter. My first husband threw me out one day. I know it wasn’t the first time I didn’t have a meal ready for him when he came in, but was that all I was to him? A cook?
He was nearly three times my age. When we married, his forty-six years could have been a hundred to me. He was a butcher, and my father made the match thinking I would not go hungry. At sixteen, I had done some cooking, but our family was large, and I was the youngest girl. I never learned how to manage a kitchen or plan a meal.
The marriage lasted less than two years. Now instead of a silly sixteen-year-old girl, I was a divorced woman with a broken heart at seventeen. He and his new wife kept my baby, my only joy for the last eight months.
My parents let me back in my childhood home, but things were not the same. They looked at me with different eyes. Rather than seeing my pain, they saw the shame I brought them.
My father tried for a couple years to find me a match, but a good man did not want a divorced woman.
That’s when I began to settle. I settled four more times, and each time I found myself back on the street. Now I live with a man, and he’s a brute. He does not have any interest in marrying me; he just wants someone to boss around. I have finally learned to get supper on the table promptly, since the alternative is so painful.
After my second marriage, the women in Sychar began to talk. It got worse and worse, until I just didn’t want to be seen in town anymore. Every time I showed up in the village, my shame burned me. It was like holding my hand over an open flame. When I entered a shop or market, all the talking stopped and the glaring began.
Twice a day—morning and evening—since the day I was first married, it fell to me to fetch the water. A few years back, I stopped going with the rest of the women. As their distaste for me grew, I looked for different times and other places to find water. I began to travel all the way out to Jacob’s well. It was deeper than the one in town, so I needed to bring more rope. It was fifteen minutes farther away, but it was private in the heat of the day.
When I got to the well today, I was a bit surprised to find a man there. Not just a man, but a Jew. I could tell by the locks of hair curling down beside his cheeks and by his Galilean accent. I can’t even imagine how he came to be there.
It was rare to see a Jew in Samaria. They didn’t like us. They didn’t like our animals. They didn’t like our roads. They didn’t like anything about us.
This Jew looked tired, having most likely spent hours traveling, and he had nothing with him—no waterskins, no luggage, no food. Who traveled across this desolate tract without water? But here he was.
I was hesitant to approach. The Jews could get pretty hostile toward Samaritans. The fighting wasn’t of a physical nature, but there was no love lost in our dealings.
Then, out of the blue, He spoke to me.
“Will you give me a drink?”
I looked up. I had not let my eyes meet His. Eye contact was usually painful for me; the scorn or condemnation I found in most eyes drove mine to the ground. But when He spoke it startled me, put me off-balance.
At first I thought I would just ignore Him. This Jew could only have malice in mind. But I could feel His eyes on me. He did not turn away and was not put off by my silence. He just sat there on the edge of the well and watched me. When I finally looked up and met His gaze, something in His eyes said He was there just for me. He didn’t look at me like other men. He was looking at the “little-girl me”—like my father used to when I sat on his lap. There was somehow safety in His gaze.
Still, this could not end well for me, so I took another moment, gathered my wits, and put up my guard.
“You’re a Jew and I’m a Samaritan, a woman. How can you ask me for a drink?”
Then He started talking to me about some living water. At first I didn’t get it. I couldn’t tell if He was flirting with me or making fun of me. But there was something in His tone, in His way, something completely genuine.
Next thing I knew, He told me to call for my husband.
There it was again. Every time I dared to hope for something good, for a new relationship, my past stood like a locked gate before me, an iron barrier between me and life.
I wanted the living water. I wanted eternal life. But who would ever love someone with my past?
“I’m not married,” I mumbled. It was true after a fashion. The man of my house won’t even let my children visit when he’s at home. He would never marry me—love me.
He waited a beat. My heart waited, too. Did He know I was bending the truth?
“That’s nicely put: ‘I have no husband.’ You’ve had five husbands, and the man you’re living with now isn’t even your husband. You spoke the truth there, sure enough.”
How could He know these things? They say Messiah will come, and when He comes He will tell us all things. Could this be Him?
We spoke of other things—of temples and worship, of Mount Gerizim and Jerusalem. But what I wanted to ask Him—Are you the One?—I couldn’t get my tongue to say the words.
Finally I edged up on the question.
“I do know that the Messiah is coming. When he arrives, we’ll get the whole story.”
His answer broke the iron gate, and the floods began to flow. His answer was like living water to my soul.
“I AM He.”
This Man-Jew-Prophet-Messiah-Savior of the World, this Jesus, flooded my soul with living water. He made me a temple, a place of worship to the One True God. And He did it knowing who I was and what I’d done. He knew me—all of me—and loved me.
Today, when I lie down to sleep, it’s not in blankets of shame. The flood within me springs up to life daily.
The acceptance I pined for these forty years, I found at the well.
The cleansing I wept for year after year, I found at the well.
Come! See a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?
To read the original story, see John 4:1-29.
Copyright - Benjamin Nelson - 2015
The story above is a chapter from my book Encounters With Jesus, which is a compilation of forty such stories. It takes the reader from Christ's conception to His resurrection through the eyes of dozens who were touched by His ministry.
That is honestly what I thought when I got to this part of Matthew 5. I am trying to work my way through the sermon on the mount, and teach it from my heart. And now this!
And it was said, ‘WHOEVER SENDS HIS WIFE AWAY, LET HIM GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE’, but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the cause of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Matt 5:31-32 NASB)
I know from this same study that fully 26% of Evangelical Christians have been divorced at least once.
I know the Church has done more harm that good for decades, in the lives of those who have been impacted by divorce.
I also know that I am unwilling to mitigate the words of Jesus just because they are uncomfortable.
So I have been agonizing over this post for over a week, asking the Lord for light that would be true to the word, and edifying to the body of Christ.
OK- here goes:
The phrase that really strikes me here (at least today) is “everyone who divorces his wife, makes her commit adultery.” How can an action take by a man (ejecting his wife) put guilt on her?
He is speaking into a society that is very male centric, and in fact demeans women at every turn. A woman as I understand it, would not work outside the home. She would be a daughter until she became a wife. This may be an oversimplification, but in essence once married, she would carry out the household duties prescribed to her.
The only legit grounds for divorce that made sense here would be unchastity – so if a man were to divorce his wife, it is like sewing that big read “A” right on her blouse, even if it was not true. The chatter would be, “What did she do to deserve this? She must be…”
So my thinking here is that what she receives is SHAME without GUILT. The two may feel the same, and often go hand in hand. But in this case – the guilt is not her's but his, and the shame is undeserved, but as real as if she was the one Jesus rescued from the center of the square in John 8. [Tweet This]
Now – speaking of John 8, just for the record, Jesus makes it clear that this is not the unforgivable sin.
So here is the deal. If you (man or woman) act in any relationship in such a way as to imply shame upon others, STOP IT NOW! (really – I mean it!)
If you (woman or man) are carrying shame because of something someone else did, take a deep breath and hear the words of Jesus. “Where are your accusers? Go and sin no more."
Let me just say a couple more things here about divorce. May I? (if you answered no here – you should stop reading and just go to the bottom and click “like” – otherwise read on)
First – hear this – divorce is not the unforgivable sin. (Yes - it bears repeating) If you have been through a divorce, don’t let that become your identity. Repent if necessary, reconcile to whatever level it is possible, and be free of that stigma. God forgives us for our sins when we confess and forsake them. And the Word tells us that he cleanses us from all unrighteousness. That means it is as though you never sinned.
Next - If you are in a marriage, and it is rough, I would say to you, God has the power to heal all those wounds. The ones you have inflicted, and the ones you have borne. Fast and pray and seek the face of God. There is nothing more beneficial to a relationship with another human, than a relationship with God. Work at your marriage. Talk to your spouse. Be honest. Get a good Christian counselor involved.
Finally - Remember this about marriage. God loved us, and reconciled himself to us in that He did not hold our trespasses against us. If we can step into giving that same kind of love to our spouses, we can make this work. The only love that works is agape love, and agape love is always a choice, not a feeling. We must choose to love our mates.
Thanks for reading today. I really appreciate that you take the time.