Someone once said that people don’t see things the way they are, they see things the way they are. When the disciples passed her on their way back to Jesus from a nearby village, they saw a very lost soul. A heretic, actually, defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “a person who differs in opinion from established religious dogma.” If they had been forthcoming with their biases and prejudice, they may have made it known that they actually loathed her based solely on her faith. In their opinion, she was loathsome, rejected by God, not worthy of respect (or even acknowledgement). When they passed her, they were undoubtedly silent. Little did they realize that she was coming from where they were going – a Jewish historical site – Jacob’s Well in the middle of a country that was no longer their own: Samaria. They would soon discover that they had seen things as they were, but not as they were.
Jesus had just finished speaking with her – a conversation he initiated. A triple foul by all accounts. First, she was a woman, and he was recognized as a Rabbi. In First Century Israel, that didn’t happen. Second, she was a woman who was Samaritan – a people group ancient Jews loved to hate because they wove the religion of surrounding cultures into their version of Judaism, creating a hybrid religion that won them the term “bastards” in every Jewish circle. Half breeds. Thus, the silent treatment on the part of the disciples. Third, she was a woman, a Samaritan, and one with a difficult past. A past so disturbing that it resulted in her being at the well at the wrong time of day, and all alone. Alone because the women of the village did not welcome her earlier in the morning when it was cool, when they all traveled together in community to get water for the day. She knew she wasn’t welcome. All they could see was her checkered, questionable past – multiple husbands, and now living with a man to whom she was not married. So many reasons to distance themselves from her, to exile her to the hellish heat of the day to labor in isolation. To everyone else, she was a label, or labels, as it were. Because people saw things as they were.
Jesus saw things as they were, however, through a lens corrected by God. A woman? Yes. Samaritan faith? Check. Hard past life? Yep. But so much more than that, Jesus saw a sister, a beloved human being made in the image of God. Inherently worthy of respect. Innately valuable beyond measure. This holy one deserved the honor of being recognized as present with him, not to be ignored. This child of God was worthy of being included in conversation, not condemned in silence. This daughter was meant to be embraced, not exiled. Seeing her with the eyes of God, his words, tone, and heart followed suit. He broke the ice, asking for water, which took their chat to deeper things of God and life. Reading everything about her clearly, he gave insight into her life, which signaled to her that she was dealing with someone with a bit more God going on than most. Wanting to shift attention off of her painful past, she decided to talk religion, taking a shot at a central contentious issue dividing the two religious perspectives. As their conversation ensued, Jesus respected her (and himself) enough not to engage in theological battle, but to agree on truth they could both believe in. Much more than avoiding a fight, Jesus cultivated shalom as he showed her tremendous honor in sharing with her the nature of God and what God desires for everyone: people living in and by the Spirit of God, worshiping God in their lifestyle, in their attitude, and in their behavior. Not an argument about who’s belief is more right, but a shared striving toward believing in the right way – a more genuine orthodoxy than most dared to voice. To top it all off, Jesus let her know that he was the one anointed by God to bring this good news. He was the Messiah, the Christ many were hoping for, and she was the first person he told according to John’s Gospel. She had come crawling to that well thirsty for life and love. She left more hydrated than she could have ever dreamed – when she ran back to the village, she left her water jar behind. She was so full of life that when she told her hateful and hurtful village what happened, her charisma overcame their prejudice and led them right to the feet of Jesus to hear for themselves and eventually believe.
When we see ourselves through the eyes of Jesus, we are no longer bound by the blindness of our own self-loathing or the lens of the cultural context that shapes our sight. Shame gives way to grace. Loneliness finds itself in the company of God. The mourning of a painful past is given in exchange for the gladness of hope. When we give into such love, we claim the words of the prophet: God gives beauty for ashes, strength for fear, gladness for mourning, peace for despair (Isaiah 61:3). We you and me and the collective we embrace this love that is always available to us, and is there waiting for us without condition. We are blinded by the Light of God to finally see ourselves as we really are: glorious and beloved.
When we choose to see things as they are – as God sees – empathy moves us to love deeply, across party, cultural, religious, and gender lines with great love, respect, and dignity. When faced with people of differing ethnicity, religious beliefs, and life experience, may we see so clearly as Jesus did, and may we love so dearly. All moved by the Spirit of our faith, because, as Bob Goff noted in his book, Everybody Always, “loving people the way Jesus did is always great theology” (72). When we choose to see through the eyes of Jesus, we are blinded by the Light of God to finally see others as they really are: glorious and beloved and worthy of our love and respect.