When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) John 4:7-8
How many of us carry a stigma from the past, believing that we cannot serve the Lord because of what we’ve done? Consider the following Bible characters who carried stigma:
- The Samaritan woman carried the shame of having had multiple husbands and was living with one who wasn’t a husband. Her lineage, too, was “mixed” as a Samaritan; she wasn’t pure Jewish and hence, a “half-breed” despised by the Jewish race. (see John 4)
- Peter carried the shame of denying Jesus thrice after confidently proclaiming he would never deny the Lord. Was he even worthy of being called a disciple after this betrayal? (see Matt. 26)
- Zacchaeus was a tax collector and a very short man. As the chief tax collector, he was considered a traitor to his own country, hated by many and branded a stealer of wealth. Also, how much insecurity did the man struggle with because of his height? Who would want to identify with such a selfish cheat? This shortie of a man? (see Luke 19)
Yet Jesus loved them. He saw their worth and wanted them to see their own worth, too. Instead of despising them, He made sure to empower them. Let’s take a closer look at these three characters:
The Samaritan Woman
With the Samaritan woman, Jesus asked her for a drink. This request broke whatever racial barrier—her first false refuge of shame—that she had. Her being a “half-breed” didn’t stop the Son of Man from conversing with her. She was worth talking to. The woman replied: “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?”
I find that whenever Jesus attempts to restore us, he addresses our barriers of shame. We give Jesus reasons why He shouldn’t talk to us; why He shouldn’t heal us. Praise God He doesn’t give up too easily!
However, the process is never comfortable. When Jesus starts to heal us, He needs to touch the very areas that hurt inside us. He wants to restore us, and this means confronting our shameful issues.
“Go, call your husband and come back.” Jesus says this to the woman as He goes deeper into the restoration process. Jesus and the Samaritan have a good talk; He points out her shameful past but empowers her in such a way that she ends up summoning her whole town to hear this “man who told her everything I ever did.”
We can draw a principle from this: For us to be free from the pain of the stigma from our past, we must allow ourselves to talk to Jesus about the shameful things that weigh us down. This kind of transparency is needed so that we can hear Jesus speak His truth into our lives.
The Disciple Peter
With Peter, Jesus asked him, “Do you love me?” Three times He asked this of Peter. Three times. Just like Peter had denied the Lord three times, so now we see Jesus giving Peter a chance to find healing with this new confession of love.
Jesus mentions tasks for Peter to do for Him, an empowerment for him to see that he could still live for the Lord faithfully. As far as Jesus was concerned, Peter was still trustworthy. But did Peter believe that? With each confession of Peter’s love for Him, Jesus declared: “Feed my lambs.” “Take care of my sheep.” Feed my sheep.”
Jesus, the great Shepherd, was going for the jugular vein of Peter’s shame. He wanted Peter to know that despite his denial of the Lord, this disciple could still be trusted. Peter could still do something for Him. Peter still loved Him. Jesus gently drew up the past to restore dignity to Peter and to paint a new picture of trust and love for him.
We can trust our Savior to do this even for us: When He brings up the past to our memory, He has in mind to clothe our shame with dignity. It is His character to empower us in the very areas we find weak and shameful.
Zacchaeus the Wee Man
In the case of Zacchaeus, we see Christ empowering him with an invitation: “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5). The Bible says there was muttering all around, people saying, “He [Jesus]has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
Who was Zacchaeus in the eyes of everybody? A sinner. But Zacchaeus heard the empowering words of Jesus: Come down. I MUST STAY AT YOUR HOUSE TODAY. How did this make him feel despite the stigma of society? He felt chosen. He WAS chosen. And while people were still wondering at the identity of this miracle-working Jesus, Zacchaeus answered Him with this statement: “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” He believed Jesus enough to call Him “Lord.”
The simple invitation of Jesus sparked the desire in Zacchaeus to do restitution toward the people he had wronged. This is also a part of healing. Jesus empowers us to do good and to right the wrongs we are capable of mending. This heals our identity.
Our Own Stories
We see Jesus with the heart to empower the people around Him. Remember: after healing the lame, He would tell them to take up their mat and walk! What was Jesus doing? Sealing identity and empowering people!
Jesus wants to free us completely from shame. Maybe we identify more with Peter or the Samaritan woman than we do Zacchaeus. Or maybe we see ourselves EXACTLY like Zacchaeus. Whoever’s story we identify with most, what matters is that we invite Jesus into the painful areas of our lives. He wants to break down our barriers of shame; He wants to empower us to be the very people who can represent Him while we are here on earth.
Like Zacchaeus, He tells us to get off that tree. He wants to spend time with us today. Our Restorer has come to make us whole.
Janina Marie Rivera is the Editor-in-Chief of One Voice Magazine, a teacher of world literature, and a student of the Bible. She enjoys reflecting on life’s curve balls and plateaus. She resides in the Philippines, the country known for people who smile a lot.