I’ve watched my Facebook feed, social and news media lately with interest. Or do I mean concern? A little perhaps but let’s go with observed. I’m talking about the #metoo campaign. Aimed at breaking the silence that comes with experiencing verbal harassment or physical abuse of a sexual nature, people are identifying themselves in the growing number of people drawing attention to such treatment of women and men. Although I realise that it’s very important, creating a tipping point even so that this is noticed, my concern is that #metoo doesn’t go far enough. Yet.
I’ve noticed how some women are taking the opportunity to thank the men in their life that are brilliant role models. Others have felt able to tell their story and how they overcame it. Some tweet their still present pain. It’s the single ones of the simple #metoo that stands alone with no other comment that concerns me. You see although 6 character typed behind a keyboard is a huge step for some women, who notices that and responds? What changes for them now that their silence has been broken?
My thoughts took me to Scripture. If Facebook was about in the new testament how many women in those accounts would have had a #metoo hash tag? Regular readers will know I’m going straight to John 4 on this one. Here is a women going about her daily routine isolated and alone. The culture at the time meant women collected water for cooking, washing, cleaning, drinking and watering animals in the cool of the early morning. But it’s noon, the height of the sun is beating down and she’s alone. Why? The conversation starts with a need for a drink. A tired and weary Jesus needing refreshment. Almost instantly though it moves on to the women’s thirst. It’s obvious to me that Jesus isn’t there to take from her but wants to refresh her. As the conversation unfolds Jesus asks her to go call her husband and the response opens a doorway for Jesus to let her know He’s aware of her situation: 5 husbands and the one she is living with is not a husband. This women knew what it was to be weary, tired, thirsty for acceptance, love and belonging. Although I’ve heard so many sermons or thoughts on how this women is promiscuous with a questionable past: an adulterous women. Jesus wasn’t exposing her sexual history surely? This simply can’t be the case. She’d have a #metoo hash tag for sure.
The culture of the time would have been had she been adulterous she’d have been stoned. She can’t have got away with that 5 times. Maybe she was widowed 5 times. More likely is she was given a certificate of divorce by her husbands. A parchment declaring, ‘I no longer love you, want you around. You are no longer of purpose to me.’ Used and passed on to the next one. The one she lives with now doesn’t even want to marry her. Perhaps all the blessings of a wife without the commitment or responsibility of caring and nurturing her.
Jesus wasn’t exposing her sin or sexual history, he revealed her pain. A pain that was wrapped up tightly in shame and guilt, with a big dirty bow of isolation and abandonment stuck on the top. Men using her for they own pleasure and then rejecting her. A women whose community did not notice her situation, but who left her alone to deal with it. Am I making a big jump? Is it easier to say this was the women’s fault, she asked for it, she must have been unbearable to live with. She was just a women and didn’t matter. A man could do what he wanted with her.
Let me be clear : my finger isn’t pointing at the men here in her life with a ‘it’s all your fault’ or at the community for not offering help to embrace her and still make her part of the community. I’m acknowledging that if you experience sexual abuse of any level you develop a protective shell. For many who have experienced sexual assault it’s your innocence and vulnerability that was attractive that then got sexualised forcibly. So to have those healthy emotions in another setting is too dangerous to risk. The nature of sexual assault penetrates to your core. you’ll do anything to avoid the same outcome. The guilty voice of, ‘you asked for that, it was your fault’ is quite persistent and loud. Withdrawal works better. Isolate yourself and don’t show people who you are. Shut down those feelings of being connected to others or the honesty of being who you really are in case it gets you into trouble again. And certainly don’t talk about it to others. Enter shame.
- that’s the one that keep you silent.
- Shame makes you unacceptable because if you knew where I’d been you’d reject me too.
- Shame makes you a liar as you pull another layer of protection over yourself so no one sees.
- Shame says this is your fault and you carry it. all. by. your. self.
Isn’t that what’s behind #metoo? Finally pulling those covers back and saying ‘ enough’ I’m in here and I need to be noticed, seen and truthful: breaking this bubble and risking vulnerability to move forward. John 4 v17, ‘ I have no husband’ is this woman’s #metoo moment and Jesus’ response to her shows me that he wants to go much further with this that just a hashtag breakthrough.
He thanks her for her honesty. No judgement but a revealing that He knew already and still he spoke with her. In fact this isn’t just a chance conversation: Jesus has broken so many social barriers to engage in a conversation with her. v9 Jews didn’t associate with Samaritans. More so men didn’t talk to women in public either. Yet deliberately doing so Jesus has already put a value on her that she’s worth more than her gender, or race. The lack of condemnation of her circumstance portrays deeper again that he doesn’t disqualify her because of her sexual history either. It’s the longest conversation recorded with anyone in the gospels which tells me significantly that Jesus has time for this women specifically. She’s important.
He goes on to talk with her about Real relationship. One that is connected to God Himself. One that brings Life and meaning to all our dry and thirsty moments. A pure authentic relationship that tells you you’re loved, accepted and belong. In fact He longs for that connection expressed when He says, ‘if you knew the gift of God’ I hear the passion and longing of – if you only knew what is waiting for you, who it is that speaks with you and what I can offer you.’ He’s not looking to take anything away from her or devalue her flesh. He’s letting her know that He regards her flesh as sacred and holy. That’s why He wants to come and make His home in her. Live inside her as a Spring of Living water leaping up with Life and love and fulfilment. He wants to commit all of Himself to her in a life of love together not abandoned or isolated. God wants to occupy our body with His Holy Presence. How much more worth could be put on us?
It’s probably obvious I’m a John 4 girl. Not because I’ve had 5 husbands but certainly because of my #metoo history. The details aren’t important here, not because I can’t share them or have shame but simply because darkness does not drive out darkness only Light can do that. I want to tell you what Jesus did after I told him #metoo. You see Jesus found me. He noticed me still trying to find water to drink that would refresh my inner being so that I could get past all my isolation and hiding away. He persisted enough to get past the ‘I’m fine’ that shame teaches you to repeat over and over. Even when you know you’re not fooling anyone but your self! I could tell you so many John 4 moments I’ve had of how He’s done that but this one is what’s on my heart today.
Sat in a hotel lobby lounge with my pastor/mentor/ friend the hostess comes offering more drinks and I ordered a water. A glass with ice and lemon soon appeared on the table before me with a bottle of water. As she left, my friend reached across and simply opened the bottle and began pouring me a drink. A thoughtful, courteous gesture perhaps by a gentleman but to me in that moment Father God fiercely impacted my spirit. Suddenly I felt accepted and thought of. There was a respect there for me that I had never experienced before: a man that was a gentleman. Sure my husband brings me a cup of tea most mornings. He pours me wine at the dinner table. He’s romantic and loving. But this was so different because it’s a male being considerate to me for no other pay off than to bless me. I sat for a moment trying to understand myself why I had even noticed it or found that so foreign yet lovely. And it hit me that it spoke of my value and showed respect, just for being me. Yes, pouring me a glass of water did that for me. As I drove home I asked Father God again what exactly was I feeling. ‘Oh that’s dignity Sarah and it belongs to you.’ That was new and precious! My friend didn’t just pour me a drink but Jesus had given me a drink!! The gift of dignity in a glass of water has long stayed with me as a milestone in the transformation that Jesus can bring. Don’t ever minimise what a simply moment can do for another person in communicating what they mean to you or who they are in themselves because God is always at work!
So when I read John 4 now and I hear Jesus saying, ‘ whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of living water welling up to eternal life.’ I remember what that water tasted like. I remember I drank down love and acceptance with lots of dignity. I give thanks that I haven’t only got a glass of it to remember as a one off but that I’m connected to the source of the well that gives an endless supply of fresh , pulsating- with- Life supply of it. I have water that is Jesus continually springing up . I have worth and value , an unconditional love that fills me and covers me in every situation. I have innocence, vulnerability and truth at my very core now because Christ is in me.
The woman in John 4 was utterly transformed from her #metoo moment and runs into the town to say, ‘come see a man who told me everything I have ever done’ That’s why Jesus is going further that the start of #metoo. Her shame is evaporated. It no longer exists in the new creation she is in Christ. No more hiding, everything she has ever done pails into insignificance to come and see a man. She’s bold and confident and eager to connect with others to share the wonderful Person of Jesus with other. By noticing her and calling forth the real woman under all her circumstance He has released in her a spring of living water that is already leaping up to refresh others. I love how the story continues that the men in the town come and say to her, ‘ we no longer believe just because of what you said, now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man is the saviour of the world.’
In that testimony this woman doesn’t have a past defining her anymore but a future. She has dignity as she has been restored to her community as one who has truth on her lips and who shared her knew found worth in pointing towards Jesus. She has led people to not drink her as water but to have a well inside them that means they drink of Jesus also.
#metoo changed her, the men and her community. All that’s available today in Jesus.
My prayer is that for all those woman who simply wrote #metoo will hear the invitation to ‘come see a man’, that they will ‘hear for themselves’ the love and acceptance that Jesus can bring. May their lives be utterly transformed from the parched, isolated, rejected, shame-filled hiding place into a new beginning with Jesus who changes everything from the inside out.