Jesus still has a way of meeting us in our comfort zones and equipping and empowering us to pursue our gifts and purpose. John 4 is an excellent example of Jesus' empowerment of women, and it's a story that is often minimized or told incorrectly. In this passage, Jesus surprises his disciples by traveling to Samaria and meeting a woman at Jacob’s well. Let's pay attention to what happens.
In her patriarchal culture, the Samaritan Woman’s life and livelihood depends on the care and protection she receives through marriage or familial bonds. Jesus meets her where she is, and places His emphasis on her idol—marriage. By acknowledging her marital history, He demonstrates to her that the institution of marriage, the thing she clings to for her life and livelihood, will never fill her deepest need. Indeed, her dependence on marriage for protection and salvation is a shallow solution in comparison to the deep well of salvation He offers.
Jesus opens her eyes and she sees the false security of her patriarchal worldview. Her beautiful response was one of action— she drops her empty water vessel, runs into her town, and evangelizes (4:39).
This passage marks Jesus’ longest theological conversation in Scripture and is steeped in mission-driven vision for His church. It's a vision that was counter-cultural then, and still is today. In a patriarchal worldview, the Samaritan Woman is a threat. Not only does she demonstrate her knowledge of history and theology, but her gifts of wisdom, discernment, leadership, and evangelism are on full display.
Some things have not changed since that day at the well. In a broken evangelical worldview, marriage is touted as the end-all-be-all goal of a faithful, Godly woman's life. It's her mark of success. Marriage is not Living Water— it does not sustain nor save us. In a broken evangelical worldview, the Samaritan Woman's voice is stifled and her story is told inaccurately. She has become an adulteress and a woman ostracized even from female friendship. But look again— John 4 tells the story of a woman who knows her theology, who bravely wrestles with politics, culture, and religion with Christ, and who is influential enough to bring her whole town to meet Him.
Jesus chose this woman to be the first to announce His good news— the Messiah had arrived! Women are still empowered and equipped to spread the gospel today. If you are in a church where men refuse to allow women to do so, you must question their intentions. Why would any church leader forbid what Jesus clearly encouraged?
The world needs leaders who leverage their gifts and strengths to bring transformative change. Leaders who empower and equip others to pursue their calling and purpose. Leaders who create spaces for theological conversations, where questions and wrestling are encouraged as part of spiritual formation. Leaders of influence, like the Samaritan Woman.