I’ve been reflecting on the encounter between Jesus and “the woman at the well” in John 4 for a couple of chapel talks I’m giving at Oklahoma Christian University later this week, and that story is great example of how Jesus brings hope and healing to people’s lives. For many of us, the thing that captures our imaginations is how Jesus crosses all the social barriers that the society of his day had built up in order to engage a woman with a sketchy past and a dubious moral reputation. He breaks the cultural “rules” of his time to reach out to a broken woman who feels like an outcast and is covered in shame.
And the woman can’t believe that Jesus is talking to her either! Look at what she says in John 4:9: “The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?’ (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)”
We love this picture of Jesus – the Jesus who stands as a champion of the outcast, the disenfranchised, the broken, the hurting, the sinner. Jesus doesn’t see race, gender, ethnicity, or dollar signs; instead, he is willing to welcome anyone and everyone. With all of our talk about equality today, no one in human history has ever treated people more equally than Jesus Christ. No one has ever been more accepting of people as they are than Jesus. And we love that Jesus!
This is the Jesus that appeals to the postmodern mind that values tolerance and acceptance above all else. But many postmoderns forget to read the rest of the story in John 4. Jesus is willing to accept the woman as she is but he is not content with letting her remain as she is. He gently calls her out for her immorality. In other words, he judges her according to the absolute moral standards that God implemented at Creation.
But look what happens. Instead of adding to her shame with his judgment, Jesus has given this woman the keys to break free from her shame. His truth brings her freedom, and it is instant. As soon as their conversation is over, we see this woman running to the people she was trying to avoid by going to the well at an “off time.” And why is she running to them? So she can tell them about Jesus!
But this presents a conundrum for the postmodern mind that rejects the idea of absolute truth and moral standards that apply to everyone. This story shows that you can’t just accept the Jesus who stands for sinners; you also must accept the Jesus who stands for truth. And what really blows the mind of the postmodern is that Jesus’ truth brings freedom. The postmodern believes that freedom is only possible by rejecting truth and refusing to apply moral standards. But this is a misunderstanding of truth.
Instead of seeing the truth of Jesus as a restriction on personal freedom, it is more accurate to view truth as tools for how to live a productive life and have healthy relationships. In fact, sociologists, such as the famed Robert Putnam, are discovering through research that relativism is creating multiple generations of people who get caught in recurring loops of economic stress, family breakdown, and personal anarchy because they have been given no basic codes, standards, and rules of life that enable and empower them to create productive lives, advance economically, and experience healthy relationships. The absence of absolute truth and moral standards has actually imprisoned people rather than free them.
But Jesus wants us to have the best life possible, and the way to that life is through the acceptance of his truth. This is because the absolute truth of Christ provides the life skills that are needed in order to experience joy, peace, love, meaning, purpose, significance, and security.
So, Jesus brings us hope and healing by accepting us as we are and giving us the tools needed to do life better. His unconditional love and his merciful acceptance of us fills us with hope by letting us know that we are never out of his reach. His absolute truth and moral standards bring us healing by protecting us from certain harms, providing us many blessings, and teaching us how to live in a way that brings redemption, reconciliation, and reward.
Despite what you may hear about Jesus from his skeptics, the grace and truth of Jesus does indeed transform lives. Just ask the woman at the well.