I love musicals. As a young single mom, I spent many rainy afternoons snuggled close with my oldest daughter as we watched “singing and dancing” movies like “Newsies,” “Meet Me in St. Louis,” and ”The Unsinkable Molly Brown.”
Many films simply stirred joy, but “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” carried all my favorite story ingredients: an underdog, an unlikely romantic match, an immense obstacle to overcome, and an opportunity for transformation.
From backwoods to downtown Denver, Molly Brown longed to join Denver’s elite. After a surprise discovery of gold, it looked like she was on her way. Molly upgraded her clothes and moved to the right part of town.
But how does the saying go? You can take the girl out of the woods, but you can’t take the woods out of the girl. Molly’s transformation to fit in only went skin deep, even though she learned proper diction and how to paint. When faced with choosing her old friends over those from Denver society . . . let’s just say the food fight scene with Europe’s royalty and Denver’s elite remains one of my favorites.
In Need of a Do-over
What about you? Have you ever known you needed a do-over only to find your transformation was more about your behavior than your heart?
Your kids are in that season of constant need and attention, and your frustration rears its ugly head —loudly—more often than you care to admit.
You resolved to forgive your friend after a conflict, only she blames you. Resentment simmers as you consider all the ways she hurt you more.
You want to grow closer in your relationship with God, but it feels like you’re merely going through the motions.
You know you need to make different choices. You try. You pray. You strive. But simply thinking about the work it takes is just. plain. exhausting.
You are not alone.
The Bible tells a story in John 4 about a different lady in desperate need of a do-over, where her life, like Molly Brown’s, was the talk of the town. Rejected because of the lifestyle she led, this unnamed Samaritan woman walked to get her water at the well outside of town during the hottest time of day just to avoid the whispers and looks.
But it was in the heat of the day when she encountered someone who did more than try to change her behavior —he transformed her heart.
“For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland” (Isaiah 43:19, New Living Translation).
Imagine the scene: brutally hot in the middle of the day as she makes her way toward the well, hoping to be ignored. All she wants is water. Not conversation. Not interaction. The weight of another’s judgment is too much to carry.
She sees him there. A man, in her space, at her time, sitting right where she needed to do what needed to be done: draw water.
Jesus, weary from his long walk, watches her come near. Not only does he see her, he knows her. Every story, every longing, every reason, every tear. Yet, there he waits for her.
She longs to quench her physical thirst, but he longs to satisfy her soul. She longs to remain hidden and unseen; he looks at her with love, compassion, and expectation.
They begin to talk, like a dance.
Please give me a drink, Jesus asked her.
“You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?” (John 4:9, NLT.)
Forward and back, he meets her in her space and at her pace. She tries to deflect. Not only did Jewish people not interact with those from Samaria, a Jewish man, would not talk to a Samaritan woman, especially one with her reputation.
But Jesus did, for every step and every conversation Jesus had was intentional and not a single barrier —not even her reputation—would stop him.
“If only you knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water” (John 4:10).
Don’t those words stir a longing deep in our souls? If only you knew the gift God has for you.
Too often, I view what I need to change as a way to justify something from God. So it goes: If I … then he.
If I choose patience, God will be patient with me.
If I read the Bible enough, then he will love me.
If I attend church regularly, then he will protect me from harm.
We need to change the equation: Because he … then I.
Because of God’s grace, I am saved.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8, NLT).
The Transformational Gift
The dance continues as the woman listens to Jesus and begins to see the gift. And then the gift begins to transform her. “Please, sir, the woman said, “give me this water!” (John 4:15.)
Jesus presses further. Go get your husband.
“‘I don’t have a husband,’ the woman replied. Jesus said, ‘You’re right! You don’t have a husband – for you have had five husbands and aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth” (John 4:17, NLT).
In a split second, Jesus exposes her, but he doesn’t condemn her. Ashamed, the woman continued the dance as she tried to steer the conversation away from her heart and toward others’ behaviors.
“Why is it that you Jews insist Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim where our ancestors worshiped?” (John 4:19.)
Why don’t I just attend church more?
Sit in my chair in the morning to pray more?
Why don’t I serve in kids ministry or join the welcome team?
“I know the Messiah is coming – the one who is called Christ. When he comes, he will explain everything to us” (John 4:25).
I’ll just let the pastor explain what the Bible says.
I’ll just read one more book about what she thinks God is like.
I’ll just listen to one more podcast to learn what those words mean.
Transformation, true change isn’t about behavior; it’s about heart. And that work can be done by only one person.
“Then Jesus told her, ‘I AM the Messiah'” (John 4:26).
Jesus chose her, this outcast, to reveal his true identity to. She’s the one he decided to whisper … I am he.
The Work of Jesus
He offers satisfaction that transforms her circumstance. He offers restoration to her weary soul. He provides hope when her way seems dark. He offers unconditional love, no matter how far she had gone.
I am he.
Those words changed her life forever. Jesus transforms her heart through one simple encounter. No longer is she an outcast whom others avoid. “The woman left her water jar beside the well and ran back to the village, telling everyone, ‘Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could he possibly be the Messiah?’ So the people came streaming from the village to see him” (John 4:28-29).
“Many Samaritans from the village believed in Jesus because the woman had said, ‘He told me everything I ever did'” (John 4:39).
One encounter changes everything. We cannot do the transforming work we, like the Samaritan woman … like Molly Brown, so desperately need. Only Jesus can.
“Each time he said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me” (2 Corinthians 12:9, NLT).
And that’s something to sing about!
Thank you for reminding us that Jesus meets us where we are. I have read scholarship that suggests Jesus was aware of the oppressive situations she had repeatedly faced since women did not have the option to initiate divorce. She held onto so much shame an disappointment. But, as you point out, Jesus transforms her.
That’s the balance and gift Jesus offers us —knowing all about us and graciously not allowing us to stay there.
Love this, Kim, and the way you wove in the metaphor of dance. How we dance around the things we need to face with God in prayer. A great reminder to just let him look us in the eye and hear those words we need to take in. “I am he.” Thank you.
Thank you, Keren. I often think about the metaphor of dance –it brings such grace and freedom, doesn’t it?
Reading this reminded me of The Women of Christmas by Liz Curtis Higgs. Have you read it? For me, the simplicity of language and peaceful tone allowed my heart to enter the scene, not my head, as though I was having the conversation with Jesus. Moments of feeling this close to Him are precious. Thank you for setting the stage for this one.