He told her, ‘Go, call your husband and come back.’ ‘I have no husband,’ she replied. Jesus said to her, ‘You are right when you say you have no husband. 

If this message is not displaying properly, please view the online version

licc

Word for the Week

A Judged Woman?

He told her, ‘Go, call your husband and come back.’ ‘I have no husband,’ she replied. Jesus said to her, ‘You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.’
John 4:16-18

Most commentators make judgments about this woman – that she was ‘illiterate because women were not educated’, that she was ‘living an immoral life’, that she was ‘publicly despised and ostracised’. But are these assessments fair? She may well have been non-literate, but John records an intelligent discussion about the history and theology of Jewish and Samaritan worship. As for being ostracised, all we know is that she came to the well on her own at midday. Even if her actions were unusual, it tells us nothing about her status in her home town; only that, in God’s plans for Samaria, she was in the right place at the right time.
 
Do we presume she was despised because of her ‘immoral’ life? There is nothing in the passage that suggests this. She dropped her jar and went back to her town; the people listened, accepted what she said, and returned with her to Jesus. Many believed in him because of her testimony (John 4:28-42). That hardly suggests a despised woman, ostracised for her immoral lifestyle.
 
But what can we say about her five husbands? In fairness, we know nothing about the reasons for this situation. Laws of marriage and divorce were mostly about male choices and male decisions. Her husbands may have died; she may have been ‘inherited’ by male relatives; she may have been barren and therefore divorced. As a husbandless widow she may have found refuge in someone’s household, as a servant. Jesus may be voicing sympathy with a victim rather than reproving a loose woman.
 
Whatever we may want to assume about her, Jesus saw her as the one chosen by him to take his message into Samaria. ‘The one who reaps’, he said, ‘draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life’ (4:36). Did he say this as he watched her hurrying eagerly back to tell her neighbours? I hope she was still there when Philip and then Peter and John came to Samaria (in Acts 8) to take up the work she had begun.
 
It’s easy sometimes to jump to conclusions about someone, or to accept others’ assessments without question, and you’ll know what that feels like if you’ve been on the other end of it. As Jesus warned, ‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged’ (Matthew 7:1).

Margaret Killingray

share on Twitter  |  Like A Judged Woman? on Facebook  |  forward to a friend

"Jesus saw her as the one chosen by him to take his message into Samaria."