Women of Hope: Unnamed Women

At the Well

My feet cannot carry me fast enough! A weight has been lifted, and I am free! Free to run toward the people I’ve hidden from for years. Free to tell them who I am – because HE told me everything about me. And extended fellowship, truth, and love anyway.

“Everyone, listen! Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?”

The woman at the well. No name. Yet quite the colorful past. Wife of five men. Yet not married to the man she’s with. Outcast to her neighbors. But included by Christ. This unnamed woman who seems unimportant, unimpressive, and every other “un” we could list becomes the first person in John’s gospel to hear from Jesus’ lips that He is Messiah (John 4:26). Hers is a story that links the Old and New Testaments and ushers in the broader invitation Jesus has come to earth to deliver. And it begins with this unnamed woman at a well in Samaria.

Water of Life

Up to this point in our series, all of our women of hope have been named. Two had entire books of the Bible titled for them. For others, only a few verses contain their stories – and names. Today, we wrap up our Women of Hope series with two women who remain nameless. 

The first, known as the woman at the well, dialogues with Jesus for thirty-four verses in John 4, which is impressive, especially considering she’s a Samaritan outcast!1 

I’ve always thought this a planned meeting, one which Jesus sought out, but apparently there is much disagreement among scholars – is this a chance or planned meeting?2 Either way, the first century reality meant the most direct route from Jerusalem to Galilee was through Samaria (v.3). And, it would seem, Jesus knew exactly what He was doing – it’s why He sent His disciples into town upon arrival to get food (v.8). He needed time alone with our girl. So that He could meet her at a well.

And there’s our Old Testament connection. John, our author, is connecting his audience to a pattern seen at least three times in Genesis and Exodus – a leader of the Jewish nation meeting a woman who would become his bride at a well. There’s Isaac and Rebekah (Genesis 24:45), Jacob and Rachel (Genesis 29:10), and Moses and Zipporah (Exodus 2:15-16).3 Now, we have Jesus, who is Messiah, meeting a woman at a well – not to make her His earthly wife but to invite her and her people to join Him as His bride. Whoa. And double whoa.

Woman at the Well from The Chosen

John’s original audience would have leaned-in when they realized Jesus was meeting a woman at a well. They would have said, “We know what’s about to happen.” Only, Jesus multiplies the wedding by infinity! Now anyone who believes Jesus as Messiah can be part of the wedding feast, including our woman at the well. 

The conversation between Jesus and our girl is honest and a bit raw; it’s full of history and simmering resentment about their two battling cultures; and, it’s mostly a lesson in being receptive to all that the One who knows everything about us has to say. Without a semblance of doubt, this foreign, unclean woman accepts the living water Jesus offers her at Jacob’s well. Her response? She wants to tell everyone she knows – the people she used to avoid in shame – about the Man who knows everything about her (John 4:29). The ruined woman becomes Christ’s bride in white. The outcast becomes the Messiah’s evangelist. Because of her, the Samaritans come out to meet Jesus (v.30), Jesus remains with them for two days (v.40-41), and “many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” (v.39).

I’m not a debater of history, but this doesn’t feel like a chance meeting.4 😉

In the Crowd

I’m healed! Every part of my body hums with wholeness. The bleeding has ceased. Maybe now my life can begin. 

Wait. The Lord, He has stopped walking, and the crowds have hushed. Oh no! He calls for the one who touched His robe. I’ve defiled Him. My life is over….

He called me DAUGHTER! No one has spoken to me with such compassion in twelve years. There was no derision, no fear, no judgment in His tone. Or His eyes. Instead, He spoke with love and authority and told me my faith healed me. He said my suffering is over!

The woman with the issue of blood. Unnamed. Outcast. Pariah. Lonely and exhausted. Desperate. Worn down by her chronic condition, hopelessness swallows her. Nothing has worked, and the doctors have only made it worse (Mark 5:26). Hanging on the fringes of society, she hears about Jesus and His ability to heal (v.27). Hope reignites. Desperation makes her bold. And what she finds on the ground before Jesus – at His feet – is healing and so much more.

Wholeness of Life

Her story, as captured in each of the synoptic gospels, is short but has somehow captured my imagination and heart so completely that I’ve claimed this narrative as one of my favorites in all of Scripture. I think because I can relate to the long wait – of hoping and being disappointed. Over and over. I think because I can now grasp, at least a little after our months of pandemic lock-down, the loneliness of living a solitary, confined life. But for twelve. years. Hers was extreme – no hugs. No touch from another human being. No kind words. No one to care for her or about her.5 At all. For 4,380 days. 

It’s said that desperate times call for desperate measures, and our blood-soaked sister is determined – all her hope lands on Jesus, the Healer. There’s no one else on earth who can save her from her broken body and heart. Just Jesus. So, she concocts a plan to touch His hem as He walks through a crowd – so she won’t be noticed and so He won’t be made unclean by her actual touch (v.27-28).

The Encounter Chapel, at the Magdala Center in North Israel, is dedicated to Jesus’ encounter with all of us, as illustrated by the large painting, titled “Encounter”, in the back of the chapel. The painting gives us a snapshot of the encounter of the hemorrhaging woman who tries to touch Jesus for healing (Mark 5: 25-29). (Y’all, this is bigger than life sized. I don’t know if I would come up to her hand as I stood below it… It’s breathtaking.)

And she does it! It works, and she’s healed instantly (v.29). Except Jesus feels the power leave Him, and He seeks to know who – in all the crushing crowd – “touched” Him. Please don’t miss the humorous irony in this dialogue with His disciples. It’s a capital “C” Crowd, lots of pushing and pressing in (v.25). Everyone wants a piece of the Healer. And Jesus wants to know who “touched” Him. 

““You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’”

Mark 5:31

Do you hear the dismay in the disciples’ response? Can you imagine how many hands had reached for Jesus? Yet, Jesus reiterates wanting to know the one (Luke 8:46). And that’s when our girl gets brave. She steps forward. Falls at His feet. And confesses the whole thing (v.47).

But instead of charging her for a crime punishable by the Jewish Law (Leviticus 15:19-33), Jesus extends compassion:

“Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

Mark 5:34, emphasis mine

In the Greek, Jesus’ words confirm her deliverance – of body (sózó, restored to health), of mind (eiréné, God’s gift of wholeness), and her soul (hugiés, made completely sound and free). He makes her whole and claims her as His own.  

Delivered by Christ

The stories of our two unnamed women spark within us a hope for deliverance – because their stories are our stories. Their burdens, ours. Their shame, ours. Their despair, ours. The specifics in our experiences may differ, but the results are the same. Hopelessness threatens to envelop us. But Jesus.

The woman at the well has dirtied herself by her own choices, and shame sucks her down.

The woman with the issue of blood is made unclean, not by her own hand but by a brokenness over which she has no control. And shame holds her in its shackles.

Yet, both are sought out by Jesus and delivered by Him.

Friends, each of the Women of Hope that we’ve encountered this summer have left indelible marks on us. We are changed by their stories, by their faith, by their hope. These unnamed women – because of their anonymous states – offer us the chance to put ourselves into the narrative where Jesus calls out to us, knows every detail about us, and extends a hand of fellowship and inclusion to us. 

May our own desperation for more of God push us toward Him – not into the shadows, hidden and ashamed. May our own longing for healing cast us at His feet – even if the promise of healing is meant for eternity.6 May our own hope for a life of belonging and purpose cause us to look up to Him and receive all He has for us – so that as we step into our new roles as Women of Hope, we become vessels of the very love we’ve been given. May we invite everyone we know to hear about the One who knows everything about us.

Father God, your holiness covers us in this moment. We feel your presence and know the truth of your love – and its power of transformation within us. As we look closely at these unnamed women and the burdens they carried – whether by their own doing or not – we see ourselves. And we know that YOU are calling us to Yourself. You desire deeper relationships with us. You want to make us whole – and holy. Lord Jesus, we fall at your feet in humility, with hunger, and full of hope because, at last, we see that You. Are. Hope. There is no place else to go and no one else to look to for the healing and wholeness that we are so desperate for. So, we let our desperation push us to our knees so we can reach for the hem of your robe.7 We are ready to encounter You. Holy Spirit, You live within each of us, making us the Temple of our Most High God. We pray that this reality draws us into a more fervent, genuine seeking of God, first and most, every single day. We know our need of You, so we invite You to open the floodgates of your power within us so that, like these two unnamed women, we come alive because of the Life within us. Break us free of all that entangles and obstructs us from being fully God’s. We confess our sin. We admit our weakness. We welcome your cleansing and strength. In Jesus’ name, amen.
(inspired by Leviticus 11:44; 2 Corinthians 3:18, 5:17; John 12:32, 17:3; 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 MSG; 1 Timothy 1:1; Mark 5:27-28; 1 Corinthians 3:16; Matthew 6:33; Acts 1:8; 1 Peter 3:18; Romans 8:11; Hebrews 12:1; 1 John 1:9; 2 Corinthians 12:9)

Resources: I love sharing with you the books, podcasts, articles, and anything else that has inspired, encouraged, or taught me. These are humble offerings with no expectations.

  • 1 – Some context. Samaritans and Jews despised each other because of mutual disrespect for religious practices and prejudices. It’s believed that Samaritans were a half-Jew, half-Gentile race who came to be during the days of the northern tribes’ exile by Assyria. Our woman at the well could identify Jesus immediately as a Jew, and that’s why her response is one of surprise when He speaks to her and asks her for water. No Jew would have done that – to do so would have risked ridicule and rejection. It’s even worse that this Jewish rabbi would speak to a Samaritan woman, muchless a woman who lives with a man who’s not her husband. Also, we can infer that she is an outcast in her village because she doesn’t draw water in the early morning like all the other women. Instead, she comes alone at midday.
  • 2 – In the recent past, it’s been believed that Jews always went out of their way to go around Samaria. So when Jesus chooses to go through Samaria, it’s been thought He did that in order to meet the woman at the well intentionally. Some would contend that the route through Samaria was commonly used by Jews, so maybe it’s not as unusual as once believed. It actually could save a week of travel if going by foot, so it was certainly the more expedient route. Here’s an article that gives more details.
  • 3 – I love Tim Mackie and the Bible Project, and this article is just another reason why! They always appeal to my inner nerd. 😉 In case you’re a fellow Bible geek, here’s the “well pattern:”
    • Journey: Someone journeys to a foreign country
    • Woman at the well: The man encounters a woman at a well
    • Draws water: Someone draws water from the well
    • News: The woman hurries home to bring news of the visitor
    • Hospitality: The visitor stays with the woman’s family and there is mention of a meal
    • Joining: The two parties are joined as one
      Of course, Jesus fulfills these, but sometimes in a most upside-down fashion. Of course!
  • 4 – How appropriate that Season 1 of The Chosen – the one that opened with scenes of Mary Magdalene – closes with scenes about the woman of the well. And, y’all. The writers and actors set the meeting at the well so beautifully. They help us imagine how it could have been, and for me it was her enthusiasm they captured best. I struggled to understand her response to Jesus telling her everything she had done until I could see a possible scenario – and it’s amazing! I wept. Of course. Here’s a great article on it. And a link to the episode . By the way, they stuck with the idea that this was no chance meeting – LOL. 
    • *While we’re at it, here’s a link to The Chosen episode with the healing of the bleeding woman, which is also incredible. The writers build some back story for her in order to give viewers an idea of how awful and consuming such a health (and spiritual) issue this would have been for her.
  • 5 – This article captures how holistic our bleeding woman’s struggles would have been.
  • 6 – Natalie Grant sings a song, “More Than Anything,” that challenges us to seek the Healer more than the healing. It stands out to me that our woman with the bleeding issue seeks both. And receives both. How many in the crowd sought Jesus Himself, not just what He could do for them? How many times do I just look to Him for what I want Him to do for me rather than simply seeking Him?
  • 7 – I’ve borrowed a quote from Carol Ward that she used in an interview on the Art of Holiness podcast, May 10, 2023.
  • If you’re still reading (hahaha), then you’ll know we will start a new series, “Faith, Hope, and Love,” next week!!! Invite someone to join us!
  • I’ve not mentioned the final seven songs on our “Women of Hope” playlist just yet. “Psalm 42” by Tori Kelly, “Tis So Sweet To Trust in Jesus” by Amy Grant, and “One Name” by Naomi Raines each capture what I imagine the woman at the well’s response to her encounter with Jesus. Then, “Healer” by Kari Jobe says it all for our bleeding woman; and “In Jesus’ Name” by Katy Nichole is what could be her response to her healing — she goes on to pray healing over others!! We close our series of songs with “Keep On Hoping” by Riley Clemmons and “I Love You Lord” by Steffany Gretzinger as both encouragement to keep on hoping and as praise for all the love we have for Jesus. Amen!
    • Little factoid about our Women of Hope playlist — did you notice that every song is sung by women? It just felt right. 😉
  • Two more resources:
    • On Wednesdays I’ve begun posting 5-7 minute teaching videos on my Facebook Author Page and Instagram (@shelleylinnjohnson). This week I compare our two unnamed women to Neville Longbottom and Uncle Ben. Haha!
    • At the end of this month (this week!), I’ll be sending my first monthly newsletter to everyone who subscribes to it or my blog. I’m excited and honored to be able to share with subscribers peeks into my actual life, the things (like books) that are feeding me at the time, and extra tidbits I don’t share anywhere else. I think it’s gonna be FUN and full of ways we can continue to engage in the abiding life! Hope you’ll subscribe! (You can subscribe to my blog on the homepage of my site; I’ll have a page coming soon to subscribe to the newsletter specifically — but if you’re already getting my blog in your inbox, you’re IN!)
  • Rhythms we can incorporate into our daily lives to aid us in our dwelling with God, living for Him, and putting our hope in Him:
    • This summer we’re continuing the rhythm of meditation. We’re filling our minds with our anchoring passage, Hebrews 11:1. This is it! Our last week to sit with and ruminate on this key passage of Scripture. But, don’t worry — our next series springs right from it. It’ll always be with us:

      “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” NRSV
  • Finally, as a community, let us not neglect sharing God’s hope with others! Share your God-stories with people around you. Share this site. Share God’s Word. Shine His light of His hope into the world!

Featured portrait: Rebecca at the Well is a painting by Emile Vernet-Lecomte which was uploaded on FineArtAmerica.com, February 6th, 2022.. Bits and Pieces photo by Photo by Zrng N Gharib on Unsplash

Published by Shelley Linn Johnson

Lover of The Word. And words. Cultivator of curiosity about all things Christ. Lifelong learner who likes inviting others along for the journey. Recovering perfectionist who has only recently realized that rhythms are so much better than stress-inducing must-do's.

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