Identity and Story: Reflections on John 4

Whether she wants them to or not, every townsperson in Sychar knows her story. Gossip runs rampant, and limitless judgment abounds. As her story is told and re-told by nosy townsfolk, somehow she eventually becomes all aspects of her story; morphing seamlessly into each character depending on the perspective from which (or whom) her story is being told.

She is the damsel in distress in need of a hero, the villainous man-eater from whom no one is safe. The fiercely independent survivor who needs no one – who is her own hero. And so, all her vulnerability is lost; all mystery and everything sacred that lies in the mystery of one’s story is stripped away – to the point that we, the on-lookers on this scene in Jesus’ ministry aren’t even given a chance to know her name.

Each townsperson, from his or her own perspective has determined an identity for her.

Who knows why she’s had five husbands and is currently on her sixth? Maybe her brother-in-law had to marry her after her husband died. Perhaps there were many bros-in-law who all died young. No one knows why, but everyone knows what: she used property, her best days behind her, her life mostly spent.

She knows this too, and believes her status of “damaged goods” until one day when a chance encounter with a stranger springs her from her prison of self-doubt.

In his encounter with this unnamed woman from Samaria, Jesus offers no judgment upon her, no speculation as to the specifics of her life as it is. He uses love to disarm her defenses and restore some of the mystery to her story. He gives her a choice and the empowered ability to say “no.”

“No, please don’t make up stories about my life to add spice to your gossip hour.”

“No, I am not the sum of my mistakes, or my inadequacies. I am so much more than that.”

“No, you don’t get to choose my identity. No, you don’t get to determine my value in relation to yours. ”

And most importantly, Jesus gives this woman a new identity as a child of God: deeply loved, accepted; and welcomed into the liberating world of worshipping in spirit and truth.

With unbridled excitement, she runs. She takes off toward the village exclaiming to all in her path: “listen to me! Guess what?! I am a child of God. And you are too! Come with me, come and hear it for yourselves!”

I like to picture her that night after the excitement has mellowed, and the dust has finally fallen back to the earth. She sits in silence, turning a rock over and over in her hand, a satisfied smile on her face. She picked it up earlier near the well after her conversation with The Stranger, and carefully etched into it the word “beloved.” The hope of God lingers, palpable, in the air.

In quiet introspection she ponders. Spirit. Truth. Worship. Redemption. Jacob. Torah. Messiah. Jesus

Until the silence of a night lit by a thousand stars, and the deep peace she feels in her heart overtake her with a heaviness in her eyelids and a big yawn. She lets her eyes close in peaceful rest, for she knows who makes her dwell in safety.

 

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