The Woman at the Well

It’s hard being a woman. Women are expected to be and do everything with little to no reward or recognition.

Take the workplace for example. Women earn $0.79 for every dollar a man makes (some stats show $0.77, but from what I’ve read, $0.79 is more accurate on average. Also, women of color typically earn even less than that). Studies show that men are promoted based on potential while women are promoted based on their past performances. If a mom works full-time, she’s told someone else or something else – be it a relative or sitter, the school system, television, etc. – is raising her kids. If she’s a stay-at-home mom, people try to make her feel insignificant, like she doesn’t do much.

Our personalities are treated largely as secondary by society and a sad amount of individuals, yet there’s a lot of policing in this area. Passive women are walked over; assertive women are called names and are disliked. A woman is supposed to be normatively feminine enough not to be considered “butch” and stereotypically masculine enough not to be considered “girly” or she’ll be mocked. And it’s worth noting that the word “girly” and the phrase “like a girl” are still used and perceived as insults despite efforts to change that.

Society’s biggest concern about a woman is her looks. From retouching on ads and magazine covers to fat-shaming and skinny-shaming to people on the internet who photoshop women to look smaller to companies and industries that thrive off of women wanting to look a certain way, we’re led to believe that no matter what we look like, we don’t look right. Despite all of this, we’re told to love our bodies and that we’re beautiful just as we are. But when a woman puts the messages behind her, loves her looks and exudes that empowerment, she’s called “arrogant” or “conceited” and is regarded with disdain. (And I’d like to point out that this particular group of issues affects men too, not just women.)

In history, comments made by women were accredited to “Anonymous” for the most part. In literature, a woman will use her initials or a pseudonym to get more notice or a larger readership and used to have to do so to get published at all (i.e., the Bronte sisters). In an Eastern religion (Confucianism, I believe), scriptures basically tell parents to give boys toys that are both more fun and safer than those played with by girls. And Aristotle, who is regarded by many as a great scholar and philosopher, believed that it took a female fetus twice as long to develop a soul as it did a male fetus.

We’ve got a long way to go for gender equality in 2016, but we’ve already come leaps and bounds from when Jesus met the woman at the well. As a feminist, this scripture makes me smile, so I really like that I get to give you my perspective and analysis on it.

John 4:1-42 is the full scripture of Jesus’ interaction with the woman at the well. For a better grasp of the story and this post, I recommend reading all of it because I’m simply going to summarize it here.

Jesus goes through Samaria and stops to rest at Jacob’s well. There was a woman there, all by herself, and Jesus asks her for a drink of water. She’s hesitant. Jesus offers her an everlasting water, which she’s very interested in. He tells her to go get her husband, and she tells Him that she has no husband. He says He knows she’s telling the truth because she’s been married five times before and isn’t married to the man she’s currently living with. She calls Jesus a prophet and asks a question about the difference between what the Samaritans believe and what the Jews believe, and she says she believes the Messiah is coming. Jesus then reveals that He’s the Messiah, and the woman runs to tell the townspeople.

There are a few things that are evident here about the woman, who remains nameless. The first is that she’s smart. She knew better than to trust a random Jewish man who approached her when no one else was around to witness what could happen, especially when she knew no one liked her and that people probably wouldn’t believe her if anything bad happened to her. She knew the difference between what Samaritans and Jews believed. She also knew the origin of the well, and she knew the Messiah was coming. She knew plenty.

We know the woman was pretty much alone. Having had five husbands and then living with her boyfriend, she wasn’t entirely alone, but we can tell from the fact that no one else really wants to be around her at the well that she doesn’t have much companionship.

We know that the woman was honest. She could’ve lied to Jesus about her marital status but didn’t. Had it been anyone but Jesus, the stranger probably would’ve responded better to a lie.

The woman’s intellect and honesty lead us to believe that the woman knew why she was alone. She knew her actions were sinful, and she knew that pretty much everyone tried to shame her for her actions, but we have no reason to believe that the woman was ashamed of herself. The text never says why she went to the well alone. It could’ve been because she was ashamed, but it also could’ve been because she didn’t want to put up with the people around her. All we know for sure is that she went to the well by herself and was okay with that. So okay, in fact, that she wanted the water that Jesus offered, the water that would perpetually and eternally quench her thirst.

When Jesus tells her all about her romantic experiences, the woman immediately marks Him as a religious man who can see truths of the lives of others, which in most cases would be a prophet. And since He already knows everything about her, she probably didn’t see the point in dragging it out. Since she was a smart woman who’d been rejected by religion, she asked a religious question to a religious man who wasn’t judging her.

The tone of this scripture depends on what translation you read, but I’ve never read a translation where Jesus was rude to this woman, where He judged her, or where He talked down to her. The rest of the world wanted nothing to do with her, and Jesus treated her with kindness and respect.

Do you see yourself in here yet? Because I do. An otherworldly love given without second thoughts to someone who no one else seems to want. To someone who doesn’t deserve it. To someone who is doing just fine on his or her own, thanks, and doesn’t really need any help.

I think if we all think about it, we can all feel the dirt beneath our feet as we hold our buckets and jars, our heads tilted at this oddly compelling stranger standing before us because that’s us standing there at the well.

This woman was a victim of a patriarchy far worse than ours as well as a sinner, and Jesus met her right where she was. Broken, bitter, ashamed, hurting, whatever she may truly have been, Jesus met her in the middle of her mess with love and grace.

Her reaction? Run and tell everyone, even the people who shamed her to the point of avoidance. Signs of a turn around right away.

Yes, it does my feminist heart good that the first missionary was a woman. It also makes my heart happy to see the love of Jesus have such an immediate, lasting impact because I can certainly relate to that too.

Know that wherever you are, Jesus wants to meet you there. He knows who you are and where you’ve been, and He still wants to offer you living water that’ll end all thirst and a love that never runs out. He’s standing at your well asking if you’d like a drink.

By Carrie Prevette

 

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James: The Rich and the Ailing

Only five chapters long, yet every time I read James, I latch onto something new.

I’ve never really thought of James as a book about love, but as Alan finished the series about James on Sunday, I felt very loved by God. So for the final blog post in this series, I hope I can pass that along.

In the first six verses of chapter five, James speaks pretty harshly towards rich people. He speaks of hard times to come, of their nice clothes being rags and their money having no value. He says their treasures are evidence against them, tells them to listen to the workers they’ve mistreated and cheated, and even says they’ve killed innocent people.

Pretty bad, right? Not really scripture that makes you want to become a CEO or have nice things. However, I don’t believe that’s James goal or purpose here. In fact, I don’t think James has any real issue with money itself.

Something else that struck me about James in this series is how often his thoughts or language mirrors those of Jesus. Call it being brothers or him being a devout follower or them being on the same spiritual page. Whatever reasoning you choose, it makes for deeper, cohesive reading.

This particular section of James reminds me of Jesus and the rich man in Luke 18:18-24. Jesus says in verse 24 (NLT) that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.” I highly doubt there’s a sign on the pearly gates that reads, “No rich people allowed,” so what is Jesus getting at? What is James getting at?

Jesus and James are identifying money as an idol. They aren’t saying making so much money a year or owning a certain kind of car or having particular hobbies excludes you from heaven and qualifies you for a specific set of spiritual hardships. They are saying that someone who has a lot of money is prone to depending on it and loving it more than God. We all have our vices and idols; money happens to be a popular one.

Idols keep us from God and His blessings because God wants all of us, not whatever leftover energy and heart we want to give Him. With God, it’s all or nothing, and James is warning us.

James goes on to write in 5:13-16 (NLT), “Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven. Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.”

We could all use a little healing, couldn’t we? Not much may be clear about this world, but that much is.

James talks about a physical healing, but I believe what he says is just as applicable to other forms of healing as well.

Several years ago, I went through a difficult time emotionally and spiritually. I was repeatedly hurt by a group of people, and it left me sort of confused and frustrated in my walk with God. He and I had a lot of stuff to sort through in the wake of it, which was hard but therapeutic. But what was most therapeutic was talking it over (and over and over again) with my best friends who were believers and going through the very same thing as me. I couldn’t have asked to be surrounded by more supportive people, and the way we talked and vented and loved each other helped us heal together, and I firmly believe that God could’ve done that Himself but chose to use them.

There’s an Irish proverb that says, “It is in the shelter of each other that people live.”

William P. Young said, “I suppose that since most of our hurts come through relationships, so will our healing.”

God wants to use us to heal people, to show love and compassion instead of judgment and disdain. He wants us to pray for each other, to confide in and confess to people we trust to aid in our healing and not our hurting.

James doesn’t write this because it sounds nice and church-y. He writes it because it’s practical.

And as much as I believe in people healing people, I know our relationships can become idols if our first and foremost relationship isn’t with God. Without Him, we’re lucky if we ever heal. With Him, our pain has purpose and our healing is inevitable. Just as He is love, mercy, and kindness, He is also healing. Without Him, it’s all imitation.

By Carrie Prevette

James: Jealousy and Judgment

When I graduated from college, I was unemployed with no certainty of employment. I had no golden ticket, and I found some solace in the fact that very few people did have one. So I spent two months looking for a job. One day, I logged in to Facebook and saw that one of my best friends had found a job after much searching as well.

I adore this girl. We’ve been through everything from college to losing loved ones together. No one understands me or encourages me or loves me quite the way she does. She’s one of my favorite human beings.

And when I saw her employment status, I was somewhat mad and jealous.

Fast forward about a month or a month and a half. The two of us met up with a third amigo for lunch. The reasons for this lunch were that we missed each other and that we were celebrating my newfound job. They asked me about the job, and I told them. They asked me how much I got paid (which honestly isn’t a remarkable amount), and I told them. My aforementioned friend glared at me from across the table. Her salary at the time was lower than mine. She told me, “I kind of hate you right now.”

I replied, “That’s okay. I kind of hated you when you found a job first.”

What’s wrong with this scenario? Two people who love each other very much admitting to hating each other, however little and however temporarily. Shouldn’t they be happy for each other?

In truth, of all the emotions we were feeling at the time in regards to the other, happiness was the primary one. We love to see the other succeed. Our bad feelings came from places that really had nothing to do with each other. I felt inadequate and afraid. She felt underappreciated and underpaid (and rightfully so).

Here’s what James says about jealousy. “You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:2-3, NRSV).

We often want what others have because we see that it makes them happy, and we think it’ll be what makes us happy. We try to take their blessing from them, but we’ll settle for taking their happiness at least.

All of this because we want someone else’s blessing instead of considering our own. What makes someone else happy might make me miserable. God made me different from that person, so He has different gifts for me. We want what’ll make us feel good, but we forget that what God wants for each of us is often tailored specifically to each of us.

James goes on to say in the next verse of that same chapter, “Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” (NRSV).

James isn’t talking about fraternizing with unbelievers or befriending those in lives of sin who don’t seek repentance. The friendship I believe he’s talking about is one that is bonded over shared qualities. We’re called as Christians to love everyone and to go out into the world, but we’re also told that we’re peculiar, different, set apart. So the enemy of God is one who conforms to the world and doesn’t reform to the ways of God.

What, then, are qualities and ways of the world? Hate. Jealousy. Bitterness. Judgement. Things that tear people apart instead of uniting them, that hurt instead of heal, that breed loneliness instead of lovingness.

And so James says in verses 11 and 12 (NRSV), “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters. Whoever speaks evil against another or judges another, speaks evil against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor?”

As someone who’s been both a judge and the one being judged, I love this scripture. It’s blunt, yes, but it’s also a little defensive, and it’s a similar defensiveness towards those being judged that Jesus had in the scriptures.

We all sin. That’s a fact. My inclinations may be different than yours. Your brand of sin may differ from the next person’s, but in God’s eyes, it’s all sin. It hurts Him equally even if it doesn’t destroy us equally.

Judgment of others is a quality of the world. A contest to see who’s better than who simply to make someone have a fleeting sense of superiority. All it does is hurt and divide.

No one is better than anyone else. The scent of sin rests on all of us. I’m every bit as unworthy of God’s mercy as you are, and you’re every bit as loved by God as I am.

James warns us of jealousy, judgment, and other habits of the world. They do us no favors, and they separate us from God. To improve our quality of life, we must turn entirely to God and leave our harmful ways behind. Just think of what God would give us and what He would take from us.

By Carrie Prevette

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