Relational Evangelism: The Woman at The Well
Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”
Jesus is all about turning things upside down. A woman caught in the act of adultery is dragged before Jesus to be judged. “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.” With that simple sentence, Jesus flips the situation. The accusers now stand accused. Those who sought judgment are self-condemned and slink away defeated. “The first shall be last and the last shall be first,” “Turn the other Cheek,” “Love your Enemies,” all upside down and counter intuitive.
Jesus encounter with the Samaritan women at the well is another example. In this encounter Jesus totally flips the power dynamic thereby opening the door to a meaningful conversation. Tired from his journey, Jesus sits down next to a well. Having sent his disciples off in search of provisions, he is alone and thirsty. At about noon, a Samaritan woman comes to the well to draw water. There has been a lot of speculation as to why she would be coming to the well in the heat of the day, most of it unkind and mean spirited. The best guess is she needed water, to say anything more is irresponsible.
What happens next is nothing short of amazing, Jesus asks the woman for a drink of water. That may not seem like much but think about it a moment. The way power worked in the Ancient Near East gives Jesus the upper hand in this encounter. Jesus is an adult male, as such he enjoys a level of person-hood that the woman does not share. Jesus is a fully autonomous human being. He is free to come and go as he pleases. He can own property, make his own decisions, speak his own mind. She enjoys none of these rights and privileges. More than that she is a member of a despised minority group. Any way you look at it, in an encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, Jesus has all the power. That changes when he asks the woman for a drink of water. Asking the woman for a drink of water flips the power dynamic. She has the power to give water or to withhold it as she sees fit and that in a arid land equals a lot of power. By humbling himself and asking for her help, Jesus paves the way for a conversation. With the balance of power equitably restored Jesus and the woman are free to engage in a meaningful dialog. They are free to enter into a relationship as equals.
We can learn a lot from the way Jesus approaches the Samaritan woman. Jesus had a lot to offer the woman. He is after all the very Son of God, co-creator and savior of all that is. He is in unique possession of all truth. He and he alone can deliver the living water that quenches all thirst. By first exposing his vulnerability, by acknowledging his need, Jesus paves the way for sharing with the woman that which he has to offer. Had he chosen to exercise his power instead, had he approached her with an attitude of “I have exactly what you need!” It is very likely that she would have felt attacked or threatened and would have immediately shut down. The lesson here is humility goes a long way toward building a healthy relationship.
As someone who is interested in sharing the gospel and making new disciples, I have found that when I follow Jesus example by making myself vulnerable, by exposing my needs, and acknowledging my dependence on others, I have much better conversations, conversations that occasionally lead to conversions. I have discovered that people are far more interested in talking about Jesus when I ask them what they know about him then when I tell them what I know. As I have often heard it said, no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.
To evangelize is to share the good news and sharing happens best within a relationship of mutual respect and trust. A relationship of mutual respect and trust involves vulnerability. It may begin with acknowledging both our own thirst and our inability to quench it without help.