Many Christians know the story of the woman at the well. One day while Jesus is out traveling, he stops at a nearby well to rest. The disciples excuse themselves to run some minor errand, and while they are away, a woman comes by to draw water. Jesus asks this woman for a drink, and in the ensuing conversation he reveals her marital history, himself as the Messiah, and that the spirit of God is akin to living water. (John 4)
Countless sermons have been given about this passage, usually highlighting the symbolism of “living water” or the well woman’s promiscuous character, yet one detail in verse nine often goes unremarked by casual readers;
“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.)”- John 4:9
Just as today’s society is rife with all breeds of discrimination, so was the early world in which Jesus walked. At best, a Samaritan woman on her fifth husband would have been treated poorly and ignored by ancient Jews: Eyes ahead. Don’t look at them. Don’t talk to them. Don’t see them.
But Jesus did see her.
Right now, the transgender population within the United States is frightened. A memo is currently being drafted by the Trump administration which would roll back recognition and protections of transgender individuals under federal civil rights law. This new policy would essentially make transgender people invisible in the eyes of the government, and many within the community (who already face a staggering amount of discrimination) are afraid this policy would erase what little presence they have in society.
Naturally, some evangelicals have hailed this memo as a return to normalcy. Conservative pundits like Denny Burk, Andrew T. Walker, and David French have already taken to social media expressing their approval of the measure, with the latter dismissively writing:
Transgender people did not flash into existence on April 29, 2014, when the Obama administration altered its interpretation of Title IX. They will not flash out of existence if the Trump administration returns to traditional & intended statutory definitions.
In other words, “transgender people won’t disappear, they just won’t be seen.” That’s the problem.
There is a great power and dignity in being seen. Seeing conveys worth. It welcomes the outsider into our world, gives them the courage to speak up, and assures them that what they have to say won’t fall on deaf ears. It should come as no surprise that Jesus was a champion for the unseen.
Readers of scripture have always been drawn to the miraculous events surrounding Christ’s ministry, but what we fail to realize is that the true wonder and grace of the gospel is found in moments where Jesus acknowledged those individuals society had chosen to ignore — like the woman at the well.
Conservative evangelicals are fond of saying that all humans are made in the image of God and deserving of dignity. They’re right. All people do deserve to be treated with respect, and that means all people have the right to be seen. Those Christians who try to absolve their support for this policy by claiming they are merely rejecting an argument are not simply being parochial, they’re being cruel. They know exactly what kind of message this memo sends to the transgender community, and they have chosen to add a few choice words of their own: We do not see you. We do not acknowledge you. We do not care.
But Jesus does see them, and his message is far different,
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” - Matthew 11:28