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Seeing the Shame Beneath the Sin

“For you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly. John 4:18WomanattheWell

Servants of Excellence

The Woman of Samaria (or The Woman at the Well) is one of our favorites in pregnancy help ministry, for good reason. In this story we see Jesus talking to someone with a checkered past, living with a man outside of marriage. But instead of condemning her, we see in verse 18 that Jesus affirms her for her honesty.

Then, later in the story, Jesus tells this woman something he has yet to tell anyone else: That he is, indeed, the messiah she’s been waiting for.

Leading up to this moment, Jesus talks to the Woman at the Well about the living water he offers. She wants this, badly. But Jesus gives a condition: “Go, call your husband and come here.” Why does Jesus say this? I’m not sure, but perhaps a clue comes in her answer, “I have no husband.”

Aha. Jesus knew this, and his reply is more than she could have imagined. “You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband,’” he says. “For you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband. This you have said truly.”

It’s easy to look at this and say Jesus was correctly pointing out the woman’s past sin (Five divorces? Whoa!), and proving he knew she was again . . . in sin. She was shacking up, right?

But what if there is something else here? Remember what Jesus was talking about, the living water? And offering her this living water, a water that would bring life to those who were dead, a life which would never end?

Maybe, just maybe, this woman’s biggest problem was not her sin, but her shame and brokenness.

In her culture, it wasn’t women who filed for divorce. It was the men. A guess? Not one, not two . . . but five men, at different times, dropped her like a bad habit. With a piece of papyrus, they told her, “Get out.” In her heart, she had failed five men. She was unwanted, dismissed as a worthless piece of property.

And now, she was living with a man, probably thankful anyone would have her even if he saw no reason to marry her. She was broken. Ashamed. Head down at a well, drawing water . . . probably for someone else.

Perhaps for the first time in a long, long time, someone affirmed her. Remember, she could have lied, saying the man she was living with was her husband—just hoping Jesus wouldn’t figure it out. Instead, she was honest and transparent. And Jesus thanked her.

It’s a lesson for us all. Many of those who come in our door can be seen in two ways. We can address the sin, but while we might be “right,” we may be missing the bigger picture.

Jesus went deeper, addressing the shame the woman at the well dealt with every day. Instead of condemning her, he affirmed her. This launched a new conversation which led to her reaching out to other villagers, who then followed the messiah.  The Woman at the Well, then, was one of Jesus’ first evangelists.

As we reach out to those who come in our door, it’s easy to see the sin. But if we look deeper, we might find the shame at the root of our new friend’s problem. Let’s go deeper, because when we do, healing can begin.

by Kirk Walden, Advancement Specialist
Heartbeat International