I have been hearing a lot lately about “The Woman at the Well”.
This is a story about Jesus and a Samaritan woman found in John chapter 4. The messages that I’ve heard recently point out various interesting points and thoughts about what is said in the story but I realize as I read it myself that I am not a great scholar. I read my notes and am moved but then cannot remember how it is connected with the words in the story. So as much as I want to share with you the profound things I heard, I think the only thing I can share with you is what I read for myself in this story….
I feel like I “get” this Samaritan lady… at least from the words I read. She responds to Jesus pretty literally and also on a pretty shallow level as their conversation begins. She’s going about her chore of coming to get water from a well. When she gets there, there’s this Jewish guy chilling by the well and if I were her I would feel a little leery. Jews didn’t associate with Samaritans.
I picture myself working at Starbucks and helping… I don’t know.. a very well groomed, obviously rich man. I can see that he is wearing a suite and next to me in my dirty, green apron I know he probably feels superior. I would speak the same way to this man. Jesus asks this lady if she will draw him water. Maybe the business man asks me for a coffee (not so strange) but maybe he’s forgotten his wallet and asks me if I can float him for the drink. As the Samaritan woman says “You’re a Jew and I’m a Samaritan, how can you ask me for a drink?” I might say “Look, buddy, you are clearly rich and I am clearly not, how can you ask me for 5 bucks so you can have a huge frappuccino?” (this isn’t totally accurate since business men are more likely to order cheaper drinks like Americanos or Cappuccinos).
Then Jesus goes deep and says “If you knew the gift God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water”.
The Samaritan woman stays practical. I mean, really, what kind of nonsense is he talking? Living water? He doesn’t even have a bucket or pitcher to draw water out of the well. Then he says some profound stuff about this “living” water “but whoever drinks of the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life”.
I think she is still confused about his meaning but she understands he is offering something that sounds awesome. She’s like “Okay, I’ll take it… then I don’t have to keep coming back to this well every day!”
I can’t think of a way to link this to my fictional encounter with the business man but what happens next in the story is something I know well.
Jesus says “Go, call your husband and come back”.
It’s like the question I most dread when interacting with people who don’t know me. “Do you have any children?
Right after my daughter died I could not. Could not. Answer no to this question. It is not until the last year that I have this kind of gage inside which tells me whether the person asking is someone who should know or if they are a superficial enough acquaintance for me to get away with the easy lie. I’m not against people knowing but I am against senselessly depressing a customer at Starbucks who is on their way to work and does not need to start their day thinking about that poor barista who lost her baby.
So Jesus asks this Samaritan woman to go get her husband. The literal truth is that she doesn’t have a husband… and this is also the easiest thing to tell a strange, superficial acquaintance. No husband. Do not mention the series of men that she has lived with.
I will not mention the tragic end of my daughter’s life or, now the complicated details of my divorce. Some things are just not discussed, right?
But really all positive, life altering moments involve The Truth. Most moments of real connection with others involve sharing this stuff we are afraid to share and then having that other person still accept us.
From the beginning of this interaction between Jesus and the unnamed woman, you can see that Jesus is being intentional and the woman is just trying to stay on her side of the lines. Even when Jesus calls her out on her string of affairs, she tries to divert the conversation from a personal disclosure to a theological discourse.
And Jesus is not as interested in embarrassing her as he is trying to show her who he is and what he wants to give her.
“A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth”.
I cannot tell you I know exactly what Jesus is telling her here except that a few things are clear to me. He knows her. He knows that not only is she part of an “inferior” race and an inferior sex, she is probably also shunned even by other Samaritan women because she lives with men to whom she is not married. Still, of the whole village, she is the one he chooses to speak to- chooses to offer her himself and this gift of God.
After they finish speaking, the woman goes back to her village and tells the people about Jesus and that “He told me everything I ever did.” This causes them to believe he is who he says he is. They come out to meet him and are able to really believe for themselves.
I’m not making any comments about sin or forgiveness or evangelism. I just want to point out the obvious. Jesus knows the truth.He offers himself to ordinary people.
He also knows you and you are the very one he wants to give this living water to… “Indeed, the water I give him (you) will become in him (you!) a spring of water welling up to eternal life”.
It makes me thirsty.