The woman at the well has become an easy target. Like women everywhere, the thing that most folks fixate on about this woman, is her sex life.
We might notice that she is the first person in the gospel of John to recognize Jesus for who he is: the Messiah.
We might notice that she is the first person to go and tell others.
We might notice that just one chapter before, Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a religious leader fails to see what this woman so easily perceives.
We might notice the dignity and honesty with which she converses with this strange man at the well. The masterful blending of plain speech and innuendo she employs as they banter.
But instead, many Christians tend to fixate, almost with pleasure on this woman’s five husbands, plus the one at home, casting her as some sort of ruined woman most in need of redemption for her sexual sins.
Flinching as I did so, yesterday I googled “Samarian woman.” The second hit read as follows:
“The Samaritan woman at the well is no angel. Mixed up with a wrong crowd, this poor woman from Samaria has quite a reputation. She had been married five times and was living in sin with a man who wasn't her husband.
Through her story comes the lesson that people shouldn't live by carnal pleasure. Her story is also relevant because it becomes an antecedent of Christian practices — that one may seek God's forgiveness for wrongdoing.”
Why is it so tempting for us to reduce the gospel to moralisms?
To a simple equation in which a + b = c?
a: Here is the Samaritan woman.
b: She is doing things that are bad.
c: Jesus comes and makes it better.
To speak of this woman as “living in sin” is not only anachronistic, but misses the full impact of this story, strips it of gospel and reduces it to a waggling finger. Her sins (the word “sin,” by the way, appears nowhere in the text) are beside the point, for all of us are sinners. Nothing makes her any different from any of the other people Jesus encounters along the road, at least not in that respect.
What is astonishing in this story is the woman and Jesus’ mutual recognition of one another.
“You have had five husbands,”
he tells her.
And she leaves her water jug and runs to the city.
Here’s what she doesn’t say as she runs:
“Come meet a man who cleansed me of all my sin.”
Here’s what does say:
“Come meet someone who told me everything I have every done.”
Come meet someone who knew me completely.
Can he be the Messiah?
Underneath this story runs not sin, judgment, and its accompanying redemption,
but the cool, clear spring of the water of life.
Did you hear what he said?
Jesus offered this woman living water.
When we drink of this water we will never be thirsty.
She is a woman who has been to the well before.
in the heat of the sun
to draw water to drink.
To lower her jug into the cool depths of the earth
and draw out what she needs to survive.
Again and again she comes there,
to fill a need that is renewed each day,
returning over and over to take what she needs
and carry it back home.
Here is the good news of this Gospel:
You can put down your jug.
You have been thirsty,
but you need never be thirsty again.
Drink from the hands of the one who knows everything you have ever done.
I had a tough week this week.
A week where nothing seemed to line up quite right.
I wanted to feel joyful, and somehow couldn’t.
I kept coming to the well,
but found it dry,
found myself scraping along the bottom
and coming up with nothing.
I was in search of water in another way as well.
Our community is going to baptize Rachel on November 6,
and we’re not sure where we’re going to be meeting that night.
We want the place to be right, and we want the water to be abundant.
Biking around the city this week,
I’ve been seeing water everywhere.
And seeing Rachel in it!
Every fountain I pass has me thinking,
“Can we baptize Rachel in there?!?!”
Meanwhile, over at Redeemer, there’s too much water.
Water that seeps in through the cracks in the ceiling and across the floors.
I’m searching for the deep water.
The living water, the spring,
that will well up somewhere,
giving me all that I need to be joyful,
giving us all we need to immerse ourselves.
To be baptized.
The water is already there.
Is has has already been offered.
We need no bucket, no rope.
Nothing at all.
Standing at the edge of the well,
as we return day after day,
is someone who knows everything we have every done.
And we know him as well.
“Come to the spring,” he’s saying.
“To the thirsty I will give water
as a gift
from the spring of the water of life.”*