Born Loser: Woman at the Well

I want to share some thoughts about a lady who I call “the born loser,” and I want to introduce the subject by pointing out that Jesus sometimes did not give the same answer to what was essentially the same question. We are going to look at three situations in which three different persons asked Him the same question, “Who are you?” and He gave a different answer to each one; which is interesting to think about, is it not?

The first one is where Jesus has been brought to trial for His life. Before Pilate really wanted to be out of bed, they have come clamoring to have him condemn Jesus. Pilate is not in a good mood. He is not interested in what is going on except that there is a certain routine that must be gone through. He asks Jesus an indifferent question and he gets an indifferent answer. “Jesus stood before the governor: and the governor asked him, saying, ‘Art thou the King of the Jews?’ And Jesus said unto him, ‘Thou sayest.’ ” Matthew 27:11. “Are you the King of the Jews? So what, let’s get it over with.” An indifferent question and an indifferent answer.

Pilate gradually becomes convicted by his conscience that Jesus was an innocent man. Pilot did not really want to be involved in condemning an innocent man. He seized upon an opportunity to pass the problem on to somebody else. He sent Jesus to Herod because He had learned that Jesus was from Galilee and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee. “And when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceeding glad: for he was desirous to see him of a long season, because he had heard many things of him; and he hoped to have seen some miracle done by him.” Luke 23:6–8. Herod, at first, was alarmed and thought it was John the Baptist whom he had beheaded coming back to life, but gradually that fear faded away. As Jesus comes before him he simply wants to satisfy his curiosity. “Then he [that is Herod] questioned with him in many words; but he answered him nothing.” Verse 9. Jesus had only a few words for the governor Pilate, but He had no words at all for Herod. This is what I would call the idly curious question and the stony, stern answer.

Pilate asked his indifferent question and he got an indifferent answer. When the priests and elders began shouting their accusations, Jesus had not a single word for them. Neither had He a single word for Herod. All of which says a great deal about their condition, does it not?

Who Are You?

John, chapter 4, finds somebody else asking Jesus, “Who are you?” This is the woman at Jacob’s well. Jesus was resting. The disciples have gone into the village of Samaria to buy food. While Jesus is sitting at the well, the woman of Samaria comes to get water. He asks her for a drink which surprises her very greatly. A Jew would not do that because the Samaritans were an anathema to the Jews.

This deep animosity goes way back in history to the time when Solomon died and Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, took the kingdom. Finally Jeroboam took ten of the tribes to the North and rebelled against the two tribes of Benjamin and Judah in the South. Israel was in what we call, Samaria. A separate capital was set up for Samaria under the leadership of Israel. Israel’s kings, most of them, were very wicked kings. The tensions grew and the gulf widened. When the Babylonians came and took captives, there were a few people in Samaria who were not taken captive. These people left, gradually united their thinking, lives, and cultures with the pagans who lived around them. By the time the great captivity was over 70 years later, when Ezra and Nehemiah came back to rebuild the temple, these Samaritans were probably less than half Jewish in their religion and probably more than half pagan. They worshipped idols and other things forbidden by the law of God. They volunteered to help build the temple, but their idolatrous attitudes caused the Jews to refuse them that permission. So tension and bitterness between Jew and Samaritan remained through the ages. Beyond buying or selling, the Jews would have nothing to do with a Samaritan.

I Divorce Thee! , I Divorce Thee!,  I Divorce Thee!

The conversation that takes place between Jesus and this Samaritan woman is interesting and revealing. “Jesus saith unto her, ‘Go, call thy husband, and come hither.’ The woman answered and said, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said unto her, ‘Thou hast well said, I have no husband: for thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.’ ” John 4:16–18. Some have an idea that she was having a wonderful time flitting around gaily from husband to husband. I am afraid that is not very realistic. There was certainly nothing happy about this woman’s situation.

In that culture, in that time, in that place, what would cause five men to have enough feeling toward this woman to propose marriage to her, establish her as the queen of the home, and then change their mind and drive her away from the home? I think the reason would be because she had no children. That was an unforgivable fault in that culture, because a man’s lineage must be preserved, his name must be preserved, there must be children born. She was having a wretched time, a miserable time. She had been established as the queen of a home, the exalted position of a Hebrew wife, and then dethroned five times. I spoke on this subject once in a church and afterward a lady going out the door said, “You surprised me, Elder Larson. I thought she was a prostitute.” I said, “Well, I’m not an authority on the subject, but so far as I know, they don’t marry their customers. They just move on.” Five times she had to stand before the elders and listen to her husband pronounce those words of doom, “I divorce thee. I divorce thee. I divorce thee.” You say that three times and you are divorced.

What could she do? Go down to the dime store and get a job? There was no dime store. If there had been, they would not have hired a woman. Go down to some office in town and get a job in an office? There were no offices in town. And if there were, they would not hire a woman. Women did not get office jobs until the earliest part of the last century.

“I Want to Talk to You”

Now I am interested in the fact that Jesus, who has very little time for Pilate, the governor of the Jews, He who wasted not a single word on Herod, when this lady came along said, “Hey, come on, sit down, let’s talk. I want to talk to you.” He had plenty of time for her. Desire of Ages, 184, says, “The King of heaven came to this outcast soul.” And He did her a tremendous amount of good. He caused her life to turn completely around. She was, of course, living in sin. She was breaking the rules. Her sense of personhood was gone, her sense of self-worth was gone, she was just a piece of wasted, worthless, useless, human garbage, cast out on the garbage dump of humanity. And Jesus, King of heaven, who brushed Pilate off with a quick answer and who just scorned Herod, this same Jesus said to her, “Hey, let’s talk. I want to talk to you.” This was an altogether different experience for her.

Jesus Says to the Woman “I am He”

You may be wondering, did this woman ask Jesus who He was? Oh yes, look at John 4:25, 26; “The woman saith unto him, ‘I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things.’ Jesus saith unto the woman, ‘I that speak unto thee am He.’ ” He took her words as a question. He answered her question. It was implied. Oriental courtesy is not too direct. Oriental people think that we are horribly discourteous and direct in the way that we speak to each other. They go carefully around in devious ways in what they say one to another. “Jesus saith unto her, ‘I that speak unto thee am He.’ ” In the Greek it is a linear verb, like a line, showing continuous action. “I that am continually speaking to thee am He.” So He had been speaking to her for a long time by the Holy Spirit. “I continually speak to thee.” When are you going to start listening to Me? That is when things are going to be different. I like the way Jesus handled this and the way He handles every case of human need.

I do not know how old she was; probably not too young, not too old. Men were still attracted to her. But in any case, she was so messed up, she was so worthless, she was so wasted, she was useless, and it did not matter what happened to her. People come to that situation in different ways.

God Heals Hearts

We held evangelistic meetings in the state of New Jersey way down on the coast at a little place called Cape May Court House. That was the name of the town. The only place we could find to hold our meetings was a firemen’s hall in which bingo games were held on other nights of the week than when we were there. Part of the arrangement was that when we left after our weekend services, we had to set the place back in order for the bingo games. I thought it was interesting to watch a Seventh-day Adventist pastor carefully going around and setting up a room for a bingo game. I had never seen that before.

We had quite an interest there, for a little town. One gentleman who came, we learned, was the city engineer. It took us a little while to get acquainted with him because he would leave during the closing song. So we went to his home and visited him. We found that he was very interested in what he was hearing. We learned also that some while before, less than a year before, he had found it necessary to go out to the front of his house and pick the body of his wife up from the street, where she had been hit and killed by a car. He said later, “Life was over for me. It was finished.” And he began to drink heavily. Different persons in town who knew him talked to us, hoping we could do something for him. He was just drinking himself to death.

The meetings made a difference. He came all the way through. He had decided that if these two ministers have come once, they will probably come again, so I better be prepared. He went downtown and bought two very expensive bottles of brandy to serve to us when we came again. When we explained that we did not use brandy, he was very surprised. He had been an engineer in the navy, and he said he had seen lots of chaplains drinking brandy in the navy. We had to explain that Adventists were kind of different on some of these things and he accepted that. I do not know what he did with the brandy, but he did not offer it to us anymore. His interest grew, and he identified himself with the message, and he began to say, “Hey, life is beginning all over for me again.” He was beginning to get a different look on his face.

Because of the exceptional interest that we had in this small town, we decided to extend the meetings one week longer than the normal length of the series. And to put in something special, we sent for Barbara Morton to come and sing for us every night. She came, and when we picked her up at the airport and listened to her talk, we learned that things were going a little bit hard for her. Her daughters had gone from home. She was alone, so she had put all of her furniture in storage, and she was just living in a station wagon, going from church to church to present concerts.

Empty People

For the first meeting she sang a beautiful series of songs. But our engineer did not show up. I went to see him the next day because I wanted to know what was wrong. It seemed that when he was a child he had been neighbor to the home where Madam Schumann Heink lived. She was a terrific opera singer of her time. Well, he listened to her practice and vocalize, and he did not appreciate lady singers at all after hearing Madam Schumann Heink practice. He thought that Barbara Morton was probably going to be something like Madam Schumann Heink, and he was not going to expose himself to that. We told him, “Well, you are making a mistake, man, you better come down and listen to her and see her.” So he did. The next night he was there and you should have seen what happened. This naval engineer went down like a mast in a high wind. They just took to each other automatically. Some things can happen really fast at times, and this week was one of those times.

We came to the last Sabbath. We had a baptism on Sabbath and a church dinner afterwards, honoring the newly baptized people. We got over to the school building where they were having the dinner set up, and everything was ready, but for some reason Barbara was not there. We looked around and our engineer was not there either. I finally went back from the dinner hall to the church and sure enough there were Barbara and Russell having a conversation about some subject. So I told them dinner was ready. She went to get her purse and as he walked out the door with me he said, “You know Ralph, that woman is lonely.” I said to myself, “Well, she’s lonely, huh?” I took a plate from another table and put it down by Barbara’s plate for Russell. You know that worked fine. She did not show any signs of loneliness through the whole dinner.

After dinner, it had been arranged that she would go to the old folks’ home in town and sing for the people there. Russell, our engineer, volunteered to take her to the old folks’ home, but in spite of the fact that he was the city engineer, he lost his way and could not find it and wound up down at the beach somehow. So they spent their whole afternoon at the beach and barely got back in time for the meeting that night. To make a long story short, they finally were united in marriage, and lived very happily as long as the Lord gave them life. They have both gone to their rest now.

God’s Delicate Work

Life can be just used up. Life can have no more future to it. Life can just appear like it is pointless, worthless, wasted, useless, and then it can start all over again. When? When we start listening to Jesus Christ. “When are you going to start listening to Me?” That is what He keeps saying over and over again. And that is the question we all need to take very seriously. I think most of us here, could tell a similar story. There are many times when we are in that condition. Everybody is an evidence of how God works with a single individual, bringing them through this life situation and that life situation, step by step, little by little, until finally that moment, when the decision is made, and life begins all over again.

The woman at the well was a born loser. But her life tells a marvelous story. Her life was hopelessly messed up. Then the woman met Jesus and her life began all over again. She was changed into something wonderful and new. Do not turn away from these outcasts with misunderstanding; do not turn away from them because you do not think there is much there. There is a lot there. This story tells of the Lord Jesus Christ as One who moves very close, doing exquisitely delicate work as He deals with human hearts. Bringing us to the place where we recognize that we can have a wonderful, wonderful life in Him.

The End