It’s interesting to notice in the account by John of Jesus and the woman at the well how many barriers Jesus faced in the conversation at wellside (John chapter 4:1-42).
The woman (I like to call her Thirsti, with little hand drawn heart-shapes to dot the “i”s) was, after all, a woman. And 1st century Jews (of course they didn’t call themselves “first century” anything since they had no clue that the age they were living in would become the period by which most of the future societies would date their calendars!) didn’t hold women in very high esteem. A morning prayer from the Talmud (the Jewish libray of oral law and commentary on those interpretations) that all Jewish men repeat includes “Blessed are you, Lord, our God, ruler the universe who has not created me a woman.” (Though we need to give credit that Jewish women, then and now, have a higher place in society with more respect, privileges and responsibilities than most of the surrounding societies.)
Added to the strike of her gender, Thirsti was a Samaritan. And Jews avoided social contact with Samaritans for historic, racial and religious reasons.
And as we find later in the text, Thirsti was a woman with a messy past and bad reputation. To be seen talking with her would not look good for anyone, Jew or Samaritan, man or woman.
There were a lot of barriers for Jesus to overcome: gender, race, social status, religion, cultural stigma.
Yet Jesus held an extended conversation with Thirsti. He asked a favor of her, even for a drink from her water jar. He held a discussion of theology with her. That says a lot about his view of women; much more than we in our 21st century western culture can imagine.
Two thoughts come to mind. First, Jesus rejected any obstacles that stood in his way of relating with people. In fact, he seems to have seen them not as obstacles but as opportunities. For example, he had this private conversation with Thirsti because she was alone at the well at noontime out of fear of running into more respectable ladies from the town at other times. In this case, the obstacle of her social status in the village presented an opportunity for Jesus.
Second, the entire event tells us that all people matter to God. It’s interesting here to draw up a comparison of the Thirsti story in John 4 with the account in chapter 3 of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus (known as Nic at nite). Nic is a man, a Jew, highly educated “teacher of Israel” (Jn 3:10), a public leader, respected, very religious and morally upright, and apparently wealthy (see John 19:38,39).
Thirsti on the other hand is a woman, a despised Samaritan, of average education (which wasn’t much for a woman), a public disgrace, mocked, nominally religious, morally despicable and most likely poor (she had no servant girl to get water for her).
Why did John include both of these stories, back to back? First, they both need God! Nic is his education, religion and prestige and Thirsti in her brokenness and disgrace – they both desperately need a savior. Nic’s religion, position and wealth can’t save him. And poor Thirsti is at the bottom looking up. I think John wanted us to be clear that when he says “belive and live” (John 20:30,31) he is talking to the whole spectrum of the human race; the good, the bad and the ugly.
Second, and this is powerful, Jesus loves them both! Which is particularly good and welcome news for me, ’cause on every test I am much more like Thirsti than Nic.
I’m glad God is willing to see obstacles as opportunities. Maybe that’s a good example for me…