The Woman at the Well

The Woman at the WellIn John Chapter 4 Jesus goes through Samaria on his way to Galilee.  What’s interesting is that most Jews chose to go around Samaria during this time so that they wouldn’t have to interact with Samaritans who were idol worshipers and considered to be unclean.  Yet when describing Jesus John 4:4 says,

Now he had to go through Samaria.

We know from the previous verses that Jesus was heading away from Judea because the Pharisees were beginning to plot against him.  So it would be natural for him to take the fastest route possible if he wanted to get somewhere safe.  So maybe Jesus had to go through Samaria because he didn’t want to waste any time.

But isn’t it typical of Jesus to do something that surprises everyone around him?  The man dined with prostitutes, turned over tables in the temple, and healed on the Sabbath.  He could have gone through Samaria just for sake of speed, but something tells me he had to go to Samaria because of who he was going to meet along the way.

This chapter has been on my mind a lot lately.  The first person Jesus told he was the Messiah is an outcast.  The woman at the well was there at noon because she wasn’t accepted there in the cool of the morning when the other woman drew their water.  Instead, she comes in the middle of the day, when the sun’s at its highest and she won’t offend anyone with her presence.  I’m sure Jesus surprised the heck out of her when he acknowledged her.

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.[a])
John 4:9

He was a man addressing a woman, which was improper.  He was a Jew talking to a Samaritan, which was unheard of.  I would be willing to bet that at first her tone was less than friendly.  I’d think that after being treated so poorly herself for so long her initial reaction to Jesus was not just shock but also shame and later, skepticism.  Who was this man?  Was he teasing her, like so many others?  Was he planning to use her because he knew no one would care?  How dare he assume he could talk to her when he was the stranger in her homeland?  Just because no one else respected her didn’t mean that he had a right to address her publicly.  And on top of it all he wanted something from her.  Didn’t all men?  The story of her life.

But then Jesus is able to change her tone by offering her something.  When was the last time someone was willing to do something for her?  changes during the course of the conversation.

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of waterwelling up to eternal life.”
15 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.”

I’m not sure she understood Jesus at first.  It’s hard to tell from the text.  She says she wants whatever water he talks about so she won’t keep having to draw water.  Forget the idea of eternal life, she’s just tired of feeling condemned while she’s still living today.  I’m guessing this is the part where she’s rolling her eyes and skepticism is coming out in her voice.  I picture her continuing to draw her water and fill her jar.  This man is saying he could give her eternal water?  That would mean she wouldn’t have to live her shame day in and day out.  It is so obvious that she’s so desperate?  He seems gentle enough and kind, but she’s guessing that if he truly knew what she’d done he’d know why she was forced to come here at noon.  And chances are, he wouldn’t be offering her anything.

Jesus could read minds, but he could also read hearts.  I’m sure watching her do her best to acknowledge him without letting anything he said touch her heart made him sad.  I picture him watching her raise her eyebrows, tilt her head and respond with sass, “Well then, give me this water so I won’t have to keep coming back here to draw water,” but hearing, “That’s exactly what I need.  A way to not have to relive my past day in and day out.  If he only knew.”  And then she turns her back on him to continue with what she came to do.  Jesus is full of surprises.  When I’ve read this chapter in the past he sounded like a jerk, but maybe he knew there was only one way to get her attention.  Jesus not only addresses the elephant in the room (or at the well) of her being there at noon, but he knows exactly what she’s done that’s resulted in this situation and what she’s doing now.

16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” 

17 “I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband.18 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.”

Are you kidding me?  Who was this guy?  At this point I see her turning from her jar to stare at Jesus.  Her eyes are wide trying to soak in this realization that this Jew, this stranger could know all about her past.  She never told him, which means he knew before he offered her eternal life.  He must be someone special, but again, he was Jewish.  She could never move to Jerusalem to worship his God.  At this point I hear desperation in her voice in combination with defeat.  Yes she’s still willing to worship, but isn’t she limited by her station, her gender, her culture, and location?

19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

I picture her eyes pleading for Jesus to contradict what she’s saying.  He has her full attention and she’s moved a little closer, but she’s still full of doubt.  Jesus may have grinned ever so slightly knowing he’s awakened true desire in her.  She’s broken all right, but she’s curious and bright and thirsting for a way out.

21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

He’s contradicting everything she knows.  It doesn’t matter where you worship?  It doesn’t matter where you’re from?  It doesn’t matter what you’ve done?  What matters is how you worship.  She has it in her heart to be a true worshiper doesn’t she?  Hasn’t she been chasing passion all her life?  If only it were true.  If only.  This Jewish man has given her hope again, but her past has told her that she’ll never be good enough.  It all sounds too good to be true.  I see her eyes soften and then lower from his to the ground.  Before she speaks a small sigh escapes.

25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

Another smile from Jesus before responding,

26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

Her eyes narrow and then widen again and her head whips back up to stare at the stranger who is smiling back at her.  His eyes are sparkling.  She looks into him and recounts their conversation.  The prayers she hasn’t prayed have been answered.  She still matters.  She still matters.  The Son of God just told her so.  I see a sparkle now ignite in those wide brown eyes.  A grin begins slowly as she looks at Jesus and then bursts into a wide, beautiful smile.  Maybe she raises her hands to the sky and spins in a circle.  Maybe she rushes to him, grabs his hands and squeezes them while thanking him repeatedly.  Maybe she throws herself at his feet and kisses the top of each one.  She rejoices and Jesus laughs.  She scoops up some water and throws it in the air and begins to cry with sweet emotion.  And after it all she’s so thrilled, she leaves him running into town, rushing past the disciples, who look from her to Jesus who has thrown back his head in laughter.  A few feet from him is the water jar she left behind.

Dear God,

He is the one who keeps coming towards me
While everyone else is walking away.
He sits as if to talk awhile,
But I didn’t ask him to stay.
And yet he asks me for a drink.
How could he ask me for a drink?

He is an alien in my homeland
He a Jew and I a Samaritan,
and yet he speaks as one without boundaries
Though I am a woman and he a man.
And yet he asks me for a drink.
How dare he ask me for a drink?

He doesn’t just see a woman,
He also sees my every sin.
He knows more than what I tell him.
He knows everywhere I’ve been.
And yet he offers me a drink.
And still he offers me to drink.

He doesn’t just hear my voice
He hears my heart’s confession.
He listens without condemnation.
Each one of us his greatest possession.
And yet he offers me a drink.
And still he offers me a drink.

I am not branded with a scarlet letter
And have only had one husband to serve.
But I fear I am constantly cheating him
Of being far less than he deserves.
And yet he offers me a drink.
And still he offers me a drink.

If I were a woman at a well,
Would I be there in the early morning or afternoon?
If the world could see my sins revealed
My character would rightfully be impugned.
But he would offer me a drink.
I rejoice! He still offers me a drink.

Amen

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