By Amber VanVickle
There is something utterly beautiful about the women in the Gospels. We know very little about their backgrounds, and yet it seems we know everything about them and their beauty by one trait that they all convey: a total reckless love for Christ. Each one was lost until she found her true home, Christ. And when they found him, they found their true identity: daughter or a better translation “my little girl.”
The women of the Gospels found Him. And when they did, they were never the same, never ashamed, never fearful. They had found the one who made them whole; they found the one who unveiled their true identity, their true beauty, their true purpose, and he emboldened them to become his most fierce and loyal disciples.
The Woman at the Well
The Samaritan woman offers a different interaction than those before: She is not seeking Jesus. By chance, she meets him, tired after a long journey, sitting at the well. It is Jesus who engages her, for no meeting is by chance with him. She is Samaritan and he is Jewish, the contentious rift between these two traditions runs deep and long, over 400 years. A Jew and rabbi would never condescend, at the risk of his reputation, to speak to a Samaritan, much less a woman or to ask for water and to share a vessel. To a Jew, like the hemorrhaging woman, she is ritually impure.
But Jesus sees none of this. By engaging her in conversation, he ignores the old ways and laws. He sees only the heart. He knows it is broken. She has come to the well during the hottest part of the day, avoiding the community and fellowship of the well. One can surmise she is unwelcome; she is an outcast. Her heart is hard as she responds doubtfully to Jesus’ offer of himself, the offer of living water: “…whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst.” Her response hints of jest: “Give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw" (Jn 4:13-15).
But Jesus, the lover, will not be cast off: “Go call your husband, and come here" (Jn 4:16). The truth has laid her bare, “I have no husband,” is all she can respond. The physician comes to the broken: he knows she drinks of the water that cannot quench: “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’, for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband.” (Jn 4:17-18). Face to face, there can be no deception between them. Christ reveals himself to her to win her love and devotion: “I who speak to you am he.” To her, the lonely outcast, the broken-hearted, the hardened of heart, Jesus reveals his identity: He is the great I Am. She will never be the same.
In a symbolic gesture, she leaves her water pitcher behind, nothing else matters than to tell the world what God has revealed to her, what God has done for her. Reclaimed her. Gifted her with living water, the water that quenches. She in turn becomes an evangelist. Love demands a response, and she runs to the city, in boldness, truth, without shame, to tell them what the Lord has done for her. And because of this love out-poured, first from her savior, then from herself, the entire city is converted unto him: “It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world" (Jn 4:42).
The Canaanite Woman
Perhaps there does not exist a more astonishing story of a woman’s persistence in prayer than the Canaanite woman. She is a Gentile, a pagan, from “old Canaanite stock” embodying everything contrary and opposing to the Jewish faith. Jesus has just left Galilee, leaving behind him the hostility of the Pharisees and scribes, and has come into the land of the Phoenicians, where no Jew would ever follow him.
The Canaanite woman is seeking Jesus. Her daughter is afflicted with a demon, “severely possessed.” Her faith is juxtaposed against the malignant sneers of the Pharisees and scribes he has just left behind. Breaking away from everything that she is, she denies her pagan cult and addresses Jesus, as God made man, the Son of David, the source of all mercy: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!” (Mt 15:22) In her great need as a mother, she has risked everything to implore him and, astonishingly, he "answers her not a word." Jesus, followed by his disciples, walks on, the lover of mankind, seemingly ignores and rejects her, yet she continues after him. So loudly and persistently does she persevere after them that the disciples beg Jesus to “send her away.” She will not be deterred; she will not stop asking. Even in the face of the disciples who want to get rid of her, even in front of her Lord who tells her he has only come for the lost sheep of Israel, she kneels at his feet and adoringly, quietly, pleads: “Lord, help me.”
Continuing to adore, to worship, to recognize his divinity, she finally succeeds in getting a response from her Lord: “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (Mt 15:27). Humbly, even cheerfully, she accepts this title: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Not stray dogs, but dogs that belong to the master, beloved pets that sit beneath his table, in his company, eating the crumbs that fall from his lips. Ownership. Intimacy. Belonging. Presence.
In her genius, persistence, and love, she has won the argument and endeared herself to her Lord, but isn't this what Jesus had planned all along? Is he not a lover testing how long the beloved would persist, would follow, would remain faithful in the midst of seeming silence, seeming rejection? We must believe so, for why else would he have gone into the land of the Phoenicians if it weren’t to seek after her? And so, in great delight for the one who has won his heart, Jesus exclaims, “O woman, great is your faith!” He exults her, woman, whom he had humbled. She is his beloved: “Let it be done for you as you desire” (Mt 15:28). Love is rewarded with love.
Women of the Gospels, teach us to be like you. Teach us to be holy.