Where are you traveling, beloved sisters and brothers? Do you have resources to meet your need of God and each other?
He was traveler in those parts, traveling thru one village to get to another, though culture and common wisdom would have dictated that he completely circumvent the village of despised Samaritans, rather than passing thru it directly, the way humans will sometimes avoid passing thru certain neighborhoods or zipcodes. He was tired, thirsty, and had no bucket to speak of. The well was deep and it would have been a landmark on the sightseer’s journey, that is, if Jews and Samaritans would have resolved their differences and not simply avoided one another to achieve an uneasy peace. He stopped at Jacob’s Well—a well likely dug or purchased by the great ancestor of both Jews and Samaritans; Jacob—the son of Isaac and Rebecca, grandson of Sarah and Abraham.
Who are you, beloved? And from where do you draw living water—the kind that fills the parched places of your soul, smoothes out your wrinkled life, and softens and soothes the hurts that so easily pain you?
She was the unnamed woman that he encountered at the well. There is a bit of flirtation in this story; those who know about “wells” in scripture also know that that liaisons and marriages are formed in impromptu meetings at wells—there was Jacob who met Rachel, Abraham’s servant who meets Rebekah, and Moses who meets one of the 7 daughters of Reuel. So, fast forward, and here we have another well—the 1st century equivalent of the office water cooler and a couple conversing.
And Jesus asks her for water. He, who is Jew, asks her, a Samaritan, for drink. As if we cannot quite piece together the significance of this, the gospel writer that we call John spells it out more clearly for us in parentheses: “Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.” That is, Samaritans and Jews do not meet over the water cooler or at the local tavern to share a drink. Women do not meet men unaccompanied and unattached. Jesus is way out of his geographical territory—culturally, ethnically, and politically. And the disciples have gone to town to get food, so he is alone with her, or rather, she is alone with him.
Beloved, when is the last time that you were alone with God and God asked you for something that you weren’t sure you should or could give? When was the last time that you invited God to woo and court you by the Divine water cooler? When is the last time that you allowed God to catch you unguarded, vulnerable, and completely candid?
The unusual banter that takes place is guarded at first, but then difference and a respectful friendliness gives way to honest theological questions and discovery. They have God in common; she asks where the correct place to worship is. He asks her about her marital situation. It was a prying question, or it would seem so, but for the fact that they were alone and she confesses to having no husband. He correctly surmises that she has had 5 husbands, not including the man on whom she currently depends. Whether she has been cast aside 5 times as a divorcee or whether she is a widow, or some combination of this, we don’t know. But he understands that she has been made outcast among outcasts, the way that some treat those who have fallen on hard times as being contagious or having attracted misfortune by some fault of their own, or the way that humans tend to rank people by station, income, and class even at the lowest perceived levels of social hierarchy. What we do know, beloved, is that it was relatively easy for a man to obtain a divorce in those times and whether widow or divorcee, the woman was indeed socially vulnerable and she came to the well at an unusual time—during the heat of the day—when scrutiny and scorn would be less likely.
Beloved, how might this story speak to you in your specific need? And if you have no need, then what about this story might you tuck away for the future to remember in both hardship and plenty? There are many things that we might relate to in this passage: the crossing of taboos and boundaries of all kinds, the easy flow of conversation and the start of an unlikely friendship between two strangers, or the hope to worship God “in spirit and truth,” no matter what historical, traditional, or spiritual landmarks say.
We can relate to the woman’s vulnerability—we who may have been in similar circumstances or faced down our own public scorn. Yet the wonderful thing about this story is that Jesus has need of this woman—he is thirsty after all—and she has need of him. Her desire for living water prompts her to share her personal story with him and then, to run into the very village that would condemn her to share her discovery and the possibility that she had met the Messiah, the man who told her “everything she had ever done.”
In our excitement to share a good thing that has happened to us, we often are temporarily distracted from our difficulties or present challenges. In her haste to tell the village, the Samaritan woman forgets and leaves behind her water jar, akin to leaving behind every obstacle that would hinder her from experiencing eternal life: her failed relationships with a spouse, her painful ostracism, the hardship of widowhood or divorce, the unsettled questions of her faith, and the routine tedium of having to draw water for herself in the heat of the day from a well that was so very public.
What do need to leave behind to experience fully the living water to which Jesus calls you? What is your water jar and why do you cling to it so?
Beloved sisters and brothers, the bridegroom awaits. A courtship unfolds at this well. We are ½ of that relationship. Jesus has crossed multiple borders and boundaries just to take our hand and the hands of those society despises. Even when our hands and hearts encumbered by circumstance and challenge, he comes to you and me asking for flowing water and a relationship.
Can we bear to leave our water jar behind when he comes so that others might drink too?