The story in John 4 is generally referred to as ‘The Woman at the Well.’ There is however another perspective to consider. What made the real difference was the Man at the well. When we consider the culture of the day and the woman’s circumstances it sheds some light on the experience.
Jesus encounter with the woman and the outcome is described in John 4:5-30. The Samaritans were a people despised by the Jews so the woman was surprised that Jesus would speak with her and ask for a drink.
9 Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. John 4:9 (NKJV)
This begins a theological discussion which quickly shifts to a heart discussion when Jesus asks her to bring her husband.
17 The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.” John 4:17-18 (NKJV)
This was a major traumatic moment as Jesus exposed her heart. Divorce was a fairly easy process for men in Jesus day, not so for women. If a man was displeased with his wife, he could simply write up a certificate of divorce, give her the reasons and send her away (Deut. 24:1). Women didn’t have the same option. While the Samaritans didn’t follow the Mosaic Law as closely as the Jews, they had a similar culture so we can assume that either this woman had some husbands who died and some who rejected her or that she had been sent away by five different men. Yet the social security of the day was family relationships and she needed someone to be with, hence man number six to whom she was not married. She had been through rejection and loss over and over, likely deeply broken by it.
When the woman’s heart is exposed (we never know her name) she goes back to the safe ground of theology, however she no longer responds as feeling threatened or challenged by Jesus. I am confident more things happened in this event than John shares with us, after all she told her fellow villagers.
29 “Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” John 4:29 (NKJV)
In reflecting on this encounter, we see that somehow the woman felt safe enough to not only go back and bring the people of her village to meet Jesus, she freely shared that he had exposed her heart. What made the difference for this woman wasn’t that she met yet another man, it was the man she met, Jesus – There are plenty of broken and hurting people around us. Let us resolve that when they encounter us they will meet Jesus and have their hearts healed!