Have you ever met someone and thought: this person will certainly go places!
While in college, many of my fellow students impressed me with their talent. But one particular classmate made me sit up and take notice. We both majored in music and sang in the same choir, but this woman also had theatrical talent. Whenever I saw her in one of the college productions, I was sure she had a career in the theater. All of the actors knew their lines and delivered them well, but she became the character. If our class had voted on “The Most Likely to Succeed,” I would have chosen her.
After graduation, I heard that she attended the famous Yale School of Drama. Later, an article about her Broadway roles appeared in our alumni paper and I said, “I knew it! I knew she would succeed.”
I doubt anyone ever said that about the Samaritan woman that Jesus met at the well outside the village of Sychar. When Jesus met her, she was the only one at the well because everyone else had come early in the morning before the heat of the day. She probably came alone because she preferred hauling water in the scorching sun rather than enduring the icy stares of the townspeople. Through Jesus’ conversation with the woman, we discover that she had five failed marriages—and the man she currently lived with didn’t give her the dignity of making her his legal wife. Most likely, the people of the village considered her less-than, good-for-nothing, and least-likely-to-succeed.
Yet Jesus singled her out. He timed his walk through Samaria to arrive at Sychar at noon so that he could meet this particular woman. He let her know that he knew all about her not-so-pristine past, but that didn’t stop him from talking with her. That alone would have surprised her, for Jews did not associate with Samaritans and Jewish rabbis never talked to women in public. Yet Jesus engaged her in conversation.
Jesus chose this least-likely-to-succeed woman to share the good news of the gospel to her village.
Success Doesn’t Depend On Our Gender, Race, or Reputation
I love this story because it reassures me that success in God’s Kingdom can come to those the world overlooks or deems less-desirable. The woman at the well had nothing to qualify her for accomplishing great things. As a female, she was considered a second-class citizen by her culture. Jews considered her Samaritan race as inferior because of its mixed ancestry. And her reputation? Well, let’s agree that the neighbors probably didn’t invite her over for the summer block party.
Yet, Jesus made sure that his time in Samaria included a visit with this woman. He taught her about living water and revealed his true identity as the Messiah. He chose her to tell the good news of the Savior to the citizens of Sychar. He transformed her from the one least-likely-to succeed to a woman of staggering success.
The Samaritan woman didn’t have a theology degree. She didn’t have an impressive reputation. All she did was tell her neighbors, “Come and see.” She told them how Jesus had made a difference in her life.
At times, we all may think that our gender or race limits the success we can have. We might assume that because we lack a big platform we can’t have an impact on our world. But when we remember how Jesus chose the woman least likely to succeed, we can rejoice that God can use us too, right where we are now. We don’t need theology degrees or a million followers to tell the people around us, “Come and see what Jesus has done for me.”
Multiple Failures Don’t Disqualify us from Success
The Samaritan woman had numerous failures, including the rejection of five husbands. We don’t know everything about her backstory. The men in her life may have abandoned her because she couldn’t bear children. She may have moved in with her current partner just to survive. Even though extenuating circumstances might explain some of her failures, most likely everyone in her community would have viewed her as a repeat offender. And I wonder if she saw herself in the same way. Men threw her away. Women avoided her. Maybe she thought she had messed up too often for God to forgive her.
Perhaps we have similar thoughts. We may profess belief in God’s grace, yet struggle to embrace it. We may think, If my church knew how many times I yelled at my kids this week, they wouldn’t let me in. Or, If my Bible study friends knew the number of men I was with in college, they would ask me to leave.
Yes, we humans can be quick to judge. Yet we see in the story of the woman at the well that Jesus doesn’t see multiple failures as a deal breaker. When we trust in his saving work on the cross, he erases a billion sins as easily as one. When we’re washed in his blood, he sees us as clean as pure-white snow.
Jesus used a woman with multiple failed marriages to change a whole town.
We may not star on Broadway or get voted “Most Likely to Succeed,” but the story of the Samaritan woman reminds us that Jesus often chooses those the world has shunned. God’s love doesn’t depend on our reputation or social standing.
In fact, the Lord transforms those considered least-likely into staggering success stories. He continually uses people with multiple failures for astounding triumph in his kingdom.
Adapted from Measured by Grace: How God Defines Success, by Sharla Fritz