Could the Samaritan woman from the Gospel of John in the Bible be a good role model for those of us who follow Jesus? And is she a better role model than many of the alternatives out there?
Role Models Are Everywhere
I wonder if there was a time in the past where role models were harder to come by than they are today? Think about it — with the constant bombardment of media today, we are quite literally surrounded by role models.
Fortunately, many of those role models are great! Right in the palms of our hands or on the screens of our televisions we get to see stories about and created by the likes of Malala Yousafzai, Steph Curry, Lindsey Stirling, and Destin Sandlin, each of which would serve as great role models for adults and children alike!
Unfortunately, however, there are at least as many horrible role models we could be influenced by too. And, equally unfortunately, these role models have just as easy access to our collective attention too (if not more due to our love of bad news).
So what are we to do?
Here’s an idea — why don’t we try to curate our role models a bit? I know, I know. This is a method that parents have been trying for years and years. There’s nothing new under the sun!
But in today’s attention economy, the one thing that we can control perhaps the most is what we pay attention to. So, for the next few minutes at least, let’s attend to a really good role model: the Samaritan woman.
The Samaritan Woman as a Role Model
I’ve written about the Samaritan Woman before: about how she was an avoided person and about how Jesus didn’t pass up the opportunity to connect with her. In this post I’d like to discover what about her is worth imitating. In other words, I want to investigate why is the claim that the Samaritan woman is a good role model is true. I want to focus on three things about the Samaritan woman that are role-model worthy: she was transformed, she was on mission, and she was effective.
The Samaritan Woman: Transformed
In John 4 Jesus and the Samaritan woman have a great philosophical and theological discussion about spirituality, human insatiability, divine provision, her private ethical choices, worship, God, and the Messiah.
Her last words in this discussion are words of faith, saying that she knows the messiah is coming and that he’ll explain everything when he comes.
Then Jesus says something mind-blowing. He says that he’s the messiah. In fact, he uses a particular phrase that would have rung loudly in her religious ears — egō eimi. These two little Greek words spoke volumes.
Egō eimi are the two words that appear in the ancient Greek translation of Exodus 3.14 where God identifies himself as “I AM.” And here Jesus uses egō eimi to describe himself. Jesus is making a claim about his divinity here, albeit in a slightly roundabout way.
But the Samaritan woman gets it. She understands the reference. In fact, it appears that when she hears these two words her entire perception of Jesus changes. She probably played their conversation over in her head in a new light. And, much more importantly, she let the truth that Jesus just revealed about himself play out in her future. She saw that if Jesus truly was the egō eimi as God revealed himself to be to Moses, then her life could not be the same.
In an instant she was transformed!
So much so that in John 4.28-29 she leaves her water jar behind (perhaps a sign of her leaving her old way of life behind) and runs into town to tell everyone what had just happened to her.
Her faith in this moment changed her from the inside. The external parts of her transformation would surely be more gradual. She was still wrapped up in a deep relationship web after all (see John 4.16-18).
But the very fact that she would run into town demonstrates the reality of her transformation. She was a known commodity after all. People were well aware of her choices and judged her for the(which is likely why she was drawing water at midday instead of the morning or evening, as I wrote about here).
However, the transformation brought about in this encounter with Jesus trumped all her fears and concerns about how she would be perceived.
What a role model! How many of us would have cowered when Jesus brought up our past and current ethical choices? How many of us would have let the perception of others thwart what God wanted to do in and through us?
Let’s look to the Samaritan woman as an example of the amazing transformative power of Jesus!
The Samaritan Woman: On Mission
It’s true that the Samaritan woman was transformed on the inside. But as we have already seen, she was transformed on the outside too.
Here it is in the text of John 4.28-29 itself:
Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?”
These are the actions and the words of a woman on mission!
She had just had an amazing encounter with Jesus, the messiah, the egō eimi, and she simply had to share it with others! She can’t contain what has happened in her life! She has met the divine and she must tell people what she knows!
But notice how she tells them — she says what Jesus did (told her everything she had done) and then invited them to come and see for themselves with a question (“Could this be the messiah?”).
Unfortunately this isn’t exactly the way that we usually think about sharing the good news of Jesus and his kingdom with people, is it? Instead of the way of the Samaritan woman, many followers of Jesus try to reason, argue, or scare people into following Jesus. And we’ve seen how poorly these methods have worked at growing the church.
Instead of doing things like we always have, let’s look to the Samaritan woman as a role model! Let’s see in her not an attractive church model, but an attractive life model. She didn’t beat anyone over the head with anything. Instead she simply said what happened to her and then invited others to come see for themselves by drawing on their native curiosity.
What might this look like today? Passion City Church in the Atlanta area uses the phrase “irresistible lives” when talking about this idea. I think they are on to something.
If we live the good news with our own lives, incarnating Jesus and his kingdom where we work, live, and play, then our very lives are the curiosity-inducing questions. Sure, there will be times where we should use our mouths too. But what if we lived our lives so radically centered on the love of Jesus that people couldn’t help but be curious?
That’s a question I want to see answered in my own life!
The Samaritan Woman: Effective
Lastly, the Samaritan woman is a good role model not only because she’s transformed and on mission, but also because she’s effective.
When she invites people to come and see this guy who might be the messiah, they did so! But it gets even better.
Check out John 4.39-42:
Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers.
They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”
People first believed because of the testimony of the Samaritan woman, so much so that they pleaded with Jesus to stay with them longer. After spending more time with Jesus, the egō eimi, many others believed as well.
So the effectiveness of the Samaritan woman came in two phases — Phase One: people believed her when she said what Jesus had done for her; and Phase Two: people were able to confirm what she said when they met Jesus for themselves.
So if the Samaritan woman is to serve as our role model, then what would this look like? How can we be effective like her?
As mentioned above, invite people to meet Jesus. Live irresistible lives.
But it’s the next step — we have to let them confirm what we say by actually meeting Jesus.
Do we get in the way of this today? Absolutely!
In my humble opinion we are more likely to introduce people to institutionalized religion, the baptized American Dream, a religious self-help group, or even the church.
How, instead, can we introduce them to Jesus? How can we peel back all the caked on crud with which we’ve covered him?
Here’s a radical idea — we can let them see Jesus in us and through us. We don’t have the blessed opportunity to literally take people to the incarnated Jesus. Instead Jesus makes himself known in us through his Spirit and then calls us to incarnate him and his message wherever he sends us.
So instead of inviting people to church (which is still a fine thing to do, it’s just not the most effective thing to do), let’s invite people into our lives so that they can meet Jesus there.
And we don’t have to do this alone. We can invite them into our communal experience of Jesus too. The Samaritan woman didn’t have community (yet!), so we’ll have to pave our own road here!
One more thing — if we want to invite people to meet Jesus after having shared with them what he has done for us, not only should we invite them to meet him in our lives, but we should also invite them to meet him in the Gospels.
In my experience people love reading about Jesus’ life in the Gospels. So as we live curious lives, let’s point people to Jesus in us and our communities and to Jesus in the Scriptures as well!
What do you think? Is the Samaritan woman a good role model? Did I miss something about her that you find imitation worthy? Let me know in the comments below!