“No way!” was my answer, so you can picture my surprise when further reading revealed that the answer I was supposed to arrive at was “yes.” The story I was reading seemed clear enough at first glance. A speaker held up a $100 bill and asked the audience if anyone wanted it. Everyone raised their hands. The speaker went on to explain that the $100 bill had been stolen and had been previously used to purchase drugs and a prostitute.
When I read that no one in the audience cared how the $100 had previously been used I was bewildered. “It’s tainted money! How could money that had been used for illegal things be ok to accept?” It made me feel uncomfortable just to consider this scenario. As I continued reading, though, I realized that my thinking was faulty. I’d attached unnecessary restrictions to the $100.
“We all understood that the value of money was not determined by what it had experienced or even how it looked. Its value was determined by the Treasury Department that had printed the bill.” *
How was it that an entire audience quickly separated the $100 bill’s past from its value and I couldn’t? Years ago, four years after graduation I co-lead a Bible study for a college women. After a year a co-worker approached me with a written list of all the offenses she had observed through the previous year. Much of what she stated was a biased, and out of context, yet that was the truth she passed along to the community surrounding me. My co-worker formed an opinion of my character through her observations and interpretation of things then presented her decisions back to me dismissing any room for misinterpretation on her part. As she spoke, instead of arguing, I accepted her view of me as the truth. A few others she had previously shared her opinions with spoke up over the week reinforcing my new community status. I convinced myself God viewed me as my community did. I saw myself as tainted, like the $100 bill. I attached decreasing value to my humanly shaped character convinced my past was stronger than my present. In response, I spent several years believing I was unworthy of contributing in ministry leadership. My small town seemed to echo one voice to me, “you are lesser than.”
Jesus openly befriended a woman who was separated from her community. John 4:1-42 (NASB) is the story of a conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at a well. He encounters the woman drawing water from a well in the middle of the day. Verses 7-18:
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.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as also did his sons and his livestock?”
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
“I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
There is a lot that happens in this odd conversation. I’m comforted Jesus approaches this woman. He offers her eternal life knowing her history. The Samaritan woman was at the well alone at noon. Theologians and historians agree that for safety and to avoid heat women mainly drew water in the mornings, together. This woman seems to be outcast from her community.
The story’s ending, John 4:39-42, reveals not all was tarnished between the Samaritan woman and her neighbors. The law stated that a cohabitating woman could be stoned to death. Her community ignored this law and further revealed they trusted her by responding to her testimony.
Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words, many more became believers. They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”
The Samaritan women are alone when Jesus meets her. Perhaps she had been told she was lesser than. The Samaritan woman trusted Jesus words applied to her life along with those in her community. They believed Jesus first because of the Samaritan woman’s testimony, second because they saw and heard things for themselves.
My reaction to the $100 bill story reminded me I’m stingy with grace in my own life. I don’t pause to consider if a $20 bill coming from the ATM has less value because of its past, I accept its value in full. The $100 bill story rekindled a memory I thought was behind me, reminding me I hold on to my past believing it taints my future even after Jesus has erased it.
As my co-worker read my offenses back to me, her opinion became loud enough block out God’s words. I chose to believe that I was less than the value God had placed on my life because someone else said it was true. Weak self-esteem won back then, and I’ve battled it ever since.
I’m leading in women’s ministries today for a different college campus. I’ve become passionate about taking the time to speak encouraging and loving words to the girls I serve whenever possible. I’ve repeatedly experienced God’s gifts of grace and strength. He reminds He is enough to help me fulfill His call for my life. Other’s characterization does not matter. I’m striving daily to view myself as the audience saw that $100 bill and to remember God’s grace cleans.