Glimpses of Grace: Rediscovering the Woman at the Well

While our nativity sets often depict animals gathered around the manger, the Bible doesn’t explicitly mention them. This is just one example of how our own experiences and assumptions color our reading of Scripture. It’s important to let the Bible speak for itself rather than fill in the gaps with our own biases.

Take the story of the rich young ruler, who walks away grieved from Jesus, but we don’t know whether he kept his possessions or gave them away. Similarly, consider the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:1-45. Jesus tells her, “You have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband” (John 4:18). It’s easy to assume Jesus is accusing her of sinful behavior, but what if we were to suspend judgment and consider a more complex backstory for the woman?

Historical context is key here. Marriages at that time were often economic arrangements, and wives were considered property. Husbands could divorce their wives with little consequence, while wives had limited options. Widowhood was more common than divorce, as husbands often died young, leaving their widows searching for financial stability. Biblical examples include Tamar, Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah.

In ancient Rome, cohabitation was sometimes the only means of survival for people who couldn’t legally marry, such as slaves. The modern distinction between marriage and cohabitation didn’t exist, and single-person households were nearly impossible to maintain.

Returning to the Samaritan woman at the well, her living situation may have been the result of desperation, widowhood, or even an illegal union. While we can’t know for sure, the reason for her situation isn’t the focus of the story. Instead, we should consider what the story reveals about the Lord.

Reading John 4 with an open mind, we can see Jesus as a tender Savior who sees, understands, and acknowledges the woman’s pain. Rather than accusing her, His words convey empathy and compassion. The Samaritan woman, despite her imperfections, becomes an evangelist after her encounter with Jesus, telling her townspeople about the man who knew her completely.

Like the woman at the well, we are all imperfect beings with our own struggles and mistakes. But when we allow ourselves to be seen and known by the Lord, we can find comfort, repentance, and the courage to share His grace with others. By setting aside our preconceived notions and allowing the Bible to speak for itself, we can gain a deeper understanding of God’s character and the transformative power of His love.