I have been thinking about the woman at the well. We talk about how she was a Samaritan rejected by Jews and a woman rejected by men. We also mention that she was at the well alone.
Shunned by other Samaritan women.
Lately I’ve thought about that process more—how she became a loner. Loners don’t always start out as loners. To be a loner isn’t only to be a helpless victim. You do have some agency. But it’s an interesting development, and it often involves repeated rejection and shaming from others. You simply give up. In this instance, a loner is not the same as an introvert enjoying good, contented solitude. It’s not even the same as being socially awkward. It’s different from snobbery. If there is any distaste of people, it a distaste from poison and bitterness. But primarily, it’s a resignation.
They were probably multiple reasons the other Samaritan women wanted nothing to do with this woman. How justifiable those reasons may or may not be is not the point. Whatever those reasons, they did a good job making it clear she was anything but welcome.
I can hear…
the passive aggressive comments—
and the aggressive ones, too.
I can see…
the glances exchanged as she walked past,
the condescending looks,
the inching away,
the turning of their backs to chat more intimately with one another while boxing her out,
the sudden quiet when she approached, followed by a pretentious greeting—
or a disapproving stare, followed by a quick wrapping-up of the conversation so they could leave…
I can see…
the refusal to look her in the eye,
the sudden civility when they needed something,
and then when it was done, a return to the same cold distance.
She probably tried several different tactics…
ignoring the behavior and treating them as if they were being friendly: to have a
friend and all of that?
addressing their behavior with the goal of reconciling,
or even asking what she had done—perhaps sincerely, perhaps angrily, perhaps both,
responding with her own passive-aggressive or even aggressive come-backs,
showing up early,
showing up late,
showing up in the middle so she could squeak through unnoticed.
But eventually they wore her down. Made her silent. Made her disappear. She knew her place. Whatever her faults and what she should or should not have done, she gave up.
It may have started slowly, offering weak smiles and a quiet greeting while braving that increasingly humiliating walk through their midst. Keep your head up, be polite, but don’t make a fool of yourself.
Then it morphed into shuffling past with a bowed head, praying they wouldn’t see her.
Then it simply became too painful to show up at all. Just wait until they leave.
What gives me hope in walking through this woman’s story, just this one subplot that we don’t have a lot of details about, is that despite the rejection from these women, despite what they said about her, despite her response,
Someone shows up and speaks to her like she’s a human being.
He looks her in the eye.
He faces her, gives her his full attention.
He makes a request…but offers to give her far more.
He doesn’t gossip or slander or manipulate or berate her: yet He is far more honest about her sin and weakness than anyone she has ever met.
He builds her up, gives her a voice, lets her know He sees and hears her. He gives her a place with Himself.
And if I’m reading my Bible right, it changed that town—which probably included some of the very women who shunned her.
*You can read the actual story of the woman at the well in John 4.