The sun was hot, it always was at this time of day. Drawing water from the well under the glare of a noon-day sun was not a sensible habit to get into, but for her it was the only palatable option. The other women from the village would come together to draw their water either in the morning or evening. A gaggle of chatter, of empathy and shared sisterhood, the mundane back-breaking task of carrying their daily water somewhat redeemed by the social opportunity to bond and share in common human existence. But not for her.
Not for an outcast, a tainted woman. The companionship she so desired would simply be accusing stares and biting comments. After so many years she’d given up on redemption and so had resigned herself to bitter-sweet solitude, the quiet and heat of the noon-day trip.
Her thoughts were far away, dwelling on the daily business of life as she rounded the corner and saw him sitting beside the well. Jolted back into the moment, her heart skipped a beat as she wished he were not there. She came at noon to be alone not to meet strangers, but he was a man so would probably ignore her anyway and that gave her some solace.
Drawing closer, she felt vindicated in her hope. From the way he dressed, she could tell he was a Jew. Being a Samaritan herself, there would be no contact between them. No haughty, pure blood Jew would lower himself to speak with a Samaritan, and for their part, no Samaritan wanted any piece of their so-called brothers who left them to mercy of the Assyrians so many years ago. No, the brotherhood was over and so she was safe in her solitude.
Bending down to reach the rope, she heard his voice, “Give me a drink”.
Stunned into stillness she turned her head away. Did this man not know the rules?
“How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?”, she replied.
He sat easily on the ground. In her peripheral vision, she could see that he had been travelling. The dirt caked on his feet and lower legs betrayed at least a day’s walk. It was unusual for people to travel alone, there was safety in numbers and likely that he had friends around somewhere.
He replied, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
This made no sense to her. It was a trick surely, a play on words making fun at her expense. Who asks for a drink from a stranger when they have water of their own to drink? He was playing games with her she was sure, but she was the one with the bucket and he was the one sitting thirsty in the sun. She answered, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.”
He responded, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
She sighed inwardly. What was this he was talking about? Here he was sitting thirsty in the sun and yet offering again a source of water that would quench a thirst eternally. He had tickets on himself, greater than Jacob, offering more than her forefather whose efforts had allowed them to settle in the area and survive. And yet he sat there alone, asking her for a drink. What could he possibly give that she needed? He was crazy then, but wouldn’t that be a wonderful simplicity in life, and so she humoured him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
A smile creased his face, and he looked knowingly at her and said, “Go, call your husband, and come here.”
Fear gripped her heart. The panic that shot through her was like lightning, galvanising her defenses. He’s found my weakness! My shame. Through years of practice in situations of shame and scandal, she kept her outward calm, only raising her head slightly as she answered, “I have no husband.”
He said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”
The panic intensified – he knew! How much did he know? About the fights, the recriminations, the scandal. Of being discarded by one husband after another like broken pottery. Cycles of conflict and retribution over the years had led to one failure after another, and he was through her defenses. Yet, he was still talking with her – despite a stigma that transcended both race and gender.
Why is that – he knew? Her tenacity, the strength of personality that kept her going through the long years, came to her aide once again. Why would this Jew still offer things to me? How did he know? I must sound him out. Tentatively, she felt her way to reply, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”
If he was going to play the mystic, the wise man, she was going to test him. Try him with the age-old controversy that had divided their people for centuries.
He said, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
This was a new teaching, a break from the relentless controversy of the temples. How was is possible that worship of God could be divorced from those rules, from the rituals that had been followed for so long? Was he implying that location was irrelevant? That nationality didn’t matter? He’s implying that there is a way to know God that goes beyond external appearances and from the recesses of her mind, she recalled a teaching, a promise she’d heard at the temple about God’s anointed man who would come for His people. In hope, she said, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.”
Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
(Based on John 4:1-45)