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July 27th, 2015

What We Can Learn from The Woman at the Well Story

By Glen Snyder

(Empowered Wealth Facilitator Glen Snyder retired last year after a 30 year career as a pastor.  As a biblical scholar, he currently teaches in the professional studies program at William Jessup University in Northern CA.  In his post below, Glen shares his observations and thoughts about a phenomenon that occurred during one of his recent classes.  It all started with a question about rejection – RN).

One of the interesting aspects of the program at William Jessup University is the way the educational experience is structured.  The students are assigned to groups.  They attend lengthy class sessions and participate in online forums together in their groups.  In the program, the students are called and literally become “cohorts”.  They get to know each other.

As an assignment, the students were asked to read the story of “The Woman at the Well”. The woman in this story is a Samaritan, an outcast ethnic group in ancient times.  As was their custom, Samaritan women would go to the well early in the day before it became too hot.  They would draw their family’s water for the day and socialize before returning home.  The woman in this story, because of her past, socially unacceptable behavior, is shunned by other women, her own people, and, thus, is an outcast among outcasts.  Out of shame, the woman chooses to go the well later in the day, alone.  She feels rejected.

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The question posed to the class to the class on the online forum was, “Have you ever experienced significant social rejection like the woman at the well experienced?”  I was stunned by the response.  One by one, every single student replied “yes”.  As the genuine cohorts they’ve become, they began sharing stories of abuse in various forms by their parents, primarily their fathers.  They all felt rejected at a deep emotional level.  Like the woman at the well, feeling rejected had affected them and the course of their lives.

To me, this uniform and unanimous experience of rejection by my students is a reflection of our modern society.  Massive numbers of people have experienced rejection from their parents and family members.  It’s had a negative impact on our way of life.

I asked myself, “What can be done to change this situation?”  I think that the rest of “The Woman at the Well” story and the tenets of Empowered Wealth provide guidance and hope.

One day the outcast, rejected woman again went to the well.  As usual, she was shunned by others and alone.  This day was different, however, because on this day a Jewish Rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth, happened to be at the well.

I think it’s helpful to understand the historical context in which this event occurred.  In those days, Jewish Rabbis limited their social interactions to a small group of fellow Jews.  They would avoid talking to non-Jews, especially Samaritans, who were considered to be a morally and ethically inferior group.

This attitude, this way of being, was even reflected in the customary route that they took to travel between Galilee and Jerusalem.  The shortest, most direct route would have been to travel through Samaria.  So great was their aversion to the Samaritans that the Jewish Rabbis would travel far out of their way, crossing the Jordan River and traveling on the east bank of the river in order to avoid Samaria and coming into contact with the Samaritan people.

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Jewish Rabbis also did not talk to women.  But Jesus of Nazareth defied all of these social and religious conventions.  He traveled through Samaria and encountered the outcast woman at the well.  And he spoke to her, asking her questions and delving into her past.  And through his teachings and his way of being, he restored the woman and gave her hope.

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You’ll recall that “rejection” was a theme of the class assignment.  The woman at the well was rejected by everyone except Jesus of Nazareth.  Defying the taboos of the times, Jesus traveled through Samaria, met the woman at the well, and accepted the woman, unconditionally, just as she was.  In the language of the story, he felt compelled to do so.  Literally, “he had to”; it was an expressed necessity.  And by giving of himself unconditionally, he transformed her.

This extraordinary story reminds me of the Empowered Wealth concept “Empowered Gratitude” – giving of our time, energy, attention, and resources to help others without expecting anything in return.  Building on a foundation of Social Gratitude – polite, respectful consideration of others – and appreciation for the blessing we have, Empowered Gratitude can be a healing and empowering way to relate to others when the opportunity presents itself.  In addition, these “levels of Gratitude” are a model for how to reduce the negative impact of rejection in our world.  If we view others with respect, appreciate our blessings, and give generously when opportunities occur, wouldn’t that make the world a better place?

Another aspect of this story is the nature of the woman’s transformation.  Her rejection and shame was a result of her sordid past, not living a virtuous life.  Jesus taught, lived, and personified the highest human virtues.  By accepting the woman, teaching her a better way of being, and being congruent with his own teachings, Jesus demonstrates how we might better ourselves and  lead our families, organizations, and communities.  The Woman at the Well story gives us hope and a model for breaking the pattern of rejection that is negatively impacting the world today.  Gratitude gives us a powerful tool to transform lives, especially our own and those closest to us.

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