You Never Know Who You’ll Meet by the Well
Lord, We Hunger. We Thirst. We Yearn for your peace.
Give us some of that living water. Amen.
The story of the woman at the well has been a favorite one of mine for along time. Like with so many other stories in the Bible, I just wish I could have been there to see the expressions on everyone’s faces, or seen how their body language added meaning to the words they said. But those things are left to our imaginations. And I think God gave us our imaginations for just such purposes. We can use them to experience life beyond our limited horizons. So I’d like us all to engage our theological imaginations this morning as we visit the town of Sychar about two thousand years ago.
It was unseasonably warm that year. It was only May, but already the summer sun beat down on the woman as she shouldered the water jug on her way out of the city. Sweat beaded on her furrowed brow and trickled down her cheek. Her parched mouth thirsted for the cool water of the well. “This dry heat makes the work twice as hard!” she muttered. But she trudged on. You see, long ago she’d decided the heat of the day was easier to bear than the icy stares and cold shoulders she received when she dared go to the well in the morning with the other women.
It wasn’t like it was all her fault. Could she help it that the love of her youth had gotten sick and died? Or that the husbands who followed had given her a bill of divorce because they had tired of her? If she’d been able to have children, maybe they wouldn’t have discarded her. And her own children would soon be old enough to care for her, but her womb was as dry and barren as the land around her. At least shame of being with the man she had now was better than the shame of begging on the street.
As the woman trudged on, a group of talkative men passed her on the road into town. “How strange,” she thought. “Jews hardly ever come into the city. They are happy enough to use our roads, but they rarely bother to buy our goods.”
You see, the Jews thought the Samaritans were beneath them. It had been that way for hundreds of years. They worshipped the same God, but disagreed on where the Temple should be located. But there was more to it than that. Two hundred years earlier, the Samaritans had fought with the Syrians against the Jews and the Jews had destroyed the Samaritan temple. So there was bad blood between Jews and Samaritans.
The woman was thankful this group of travelers ignored her. She didn’t always like being so invisible, but she certainly didn’t need any Jewish man spitting insults at her today.
As the woman continued to make her way to the well, she let her mind wander to the old stories. Why couldn’t life be like it was back in the good old days, when a trip to the well could lead to a passion and romance. She found herself fantasizing again. “Someday, I’m going to come to the well, and there he’ll be. The one. That special someone to complete my life. Just like in the stories of our ancestors. Just like when Rebecca drew water for the servant of Abraham who draped her arms in Gold bracelets and took her home to marry Isaac. Just like when Rachel was kissed by Jacob at the well. Just like when Zipporah and her sisters were defended by Moses as they came to water their sheep. Ahhh. Wouldn’t that be lovely! You never know who you’ll meet at the well….But who am I kidding, I am no maiden Rachel.”
As the well came into view, the woman jerked up in fear and surprise. “Who is that! It’s a man by the well!” But her heart sank quickly as her defenses rose up. Just another Jew. Self-consciously, she thought, “I’ll just pretend that I like coming to the well in the middle of the day, and that this is nothing unusual. Or if he says anything, I’ll say my other jug was tipped over by the goat, that’s why I come in the heat of the day. Oh, what do I care what this stranger thinks of me? If I’m quiet, maybe he’ll ignore me too.”
As the woman lowered her bucket into the well, she heard his flowing voice, “Give me a drink.” She looked at him, trying to read the intention in his face. Was he mocking her? Why would a man, let alone a Jew be talking to a woman alone at the well? His face was serene, but he looked tired. It was a simple request, just like the request made to Rebecca. But she had to ask him. “Why are you, a Jew, asking for a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” His eyes sparkled, “Why aren’t you asking me for a drink? If you knew who was talking to you, you would ask me and I would give you living water.”
Maybe he was trying to mock her. Maybe he was teasing her. How did he think he could give her running, living, water, when there were no springs around here? He didn’t even have a bucket. Who is this Jew? You meet the strangest people at wells. She retorted, “Surely you are not greater than Jacob who built this well?” But his words had whetted her curiosity.
The strange man looked at her straight in the eye. “When you drink from this well-water, you get thirsty again. But when you drink from the water I give, you will never be thirsty again. It becomes like a fountain of living water, gushing up to eternal life.”
The woman remembered her parched mouth and the weight of the burden she shouldered each day. Miraculous water like this would be a gift worth much more than Rebecca’s armful of gold bracelets. “Give me some of this water!” she cried. She could almost taste the deliverance from the daily heat and humiliation. She was so thirsty. Surely this man at the well would help a Dame in Distress.
But his next words threw cold water on her anticipation and brought her back to firm ground. “Go get your husband and come back,” he said. Steadily she answered. “I have no husband.” Certainly she wasn’t obliged to say more. He didn’t need to know anymore than that. He would not be offering her anything if he knew the truth about her, she thought.
>How many times have you yearned for something to quench a thirst in your life? Aren’t there times when we feel dried up from being used and abused. Don’t you sometimes feel so drained from the stress and burdens of your daily lives that even your closest relationships can begin to wither? We desperately want living water, – an ongoing source of refreshment and renewal – but we are afraid that our dusty and dry, cracked vessels are not worthy or able to carry true refreshment such as this.
Indeed, Jesus’ next words seemed to confirm the woman’s fear.
Jesus said, “You tell the truth. You have had five husbands and the one you have now is not your husband.” She’s been found out. How does he know? He must be some Jewish prophet. Surely he’s no longer offering her any gift of water. A religious man wouldn’t muddy himself with such alliances. But his demeanor confused her even more.
His voice was knowing, but not condemning. This is too close for comfort. The woman thought, “This personal conversation had gone far enough. Enough talk about me. I can turn the tables. This prophet man is on my turf. Let him be on the defensive for a while. She challenges his religion. “You Jews think you’re better than us, and that you have a monopoly on worship sites.” Maybe that will rile him up. Maybe that will make him mad enough to leave her alone.
>You know, I find this part of our story sadly funny. Funny because I see the human comedy of errors played out here like it is today. How often when we are feeling hurt and defensive do we stage an attack or diversion against those who would try to be close to us. God brings us close to some truth about ourselves or our experience, but it is too hard to bear, so we use our anger or fear to isolate ourselves and justify our stance.
>But Jesus doesn’t show us the truth to condemn us. God doesn’t let the underbelly of our lives keep him at bay. As Paul would later say, “There is now, therefore, NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Jesus offers us a deep and authentic relationship with him, based on truth. Jesus offers us Living water, a source of abundant life that never ends.
>Jesus told the woman at the well that true worshippers worship the Father in spirit and truth. It doesn’t matter where. It just matters how. In spirit and in truth. God is bigger than worship sites in Jerusalem or Mt. Gerizim. God is bigger than the Jews or Samaritans. God is bigger than the differences between men and women, bigger than any division we human beings can think up.
>By coming to God in truth, meaning coming to God seeking God’s eternal truth above our own pre-programed answers, our spirits are set free. God’s Spirit guide us and aligns our spirit, our attitudes and actions toward God’s goodness. We can worship In Spirit and in Truth.
The woman by the well has been promised living water, and seemingly, surprisingly, the offer still holds. This prophet man has not condemned her. Her past is not an obstacle for him. Her culture had no bearing on God’s Spirit or Truth. But she still feels that she is in over her head. She’s confused.
“I know that when the Messiah comes,” she says, “he will explain everything to us.” And then, that strange prophet man by the well proclaimed his identity. “I AM,” he said, “I am he, the one speaking to you.” Jesus’ I AM, identified himself as one with the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. Jesus claims the I AM of the holy name of God.
As the disciples return, the woman quickly returns to the city, leaving behind her water jug, no longer thirsty for plain well-water, or even some type of miracle water that simply makes her daily life easier.
The living water Jesus offers is a type of betrothal gift marking a new relationship.
The woman proclaims that new relationship and She becomes the first evangelist. “Come see the man who told me everything I ever did!” “Come see the man who knows everything about me, and still cares for me enough to offer me the gift of living water… an living source of life that quenches my deepest thirst for connection. A flowing spirit that connects me to eternity.” And the people came. And Jesus stayed with them. And they believed. They came to know this man Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the savior of the world.
The woman at the well may have fantasized about going to the well to meet that special one special man. In fact, she did meet the one. Long ago, Jacob betrothed Rachel by the well, and through Rachel and Jacob’s other wives, God brought forth the twelve tribes of Israel. Jesus offers the Samaritan woman the betrothal gift living water, and through her witness, those from beyond the twelve tribes of Israel begin to join Jesus’ Messianic kingdom.
In a way, the woman at the well serves as a model of a bride to Christ, just as the church is to be a bride to Christ, working in life-long partnership to bring others to the living water. As John writes in Revelation, “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes, take the water of life as a gift.” (Rev 22:17)
No matter what your circumstances are in life right now, Jesus offers you living water, to connect your life with God’s eternal life. Whether, like the woman, you are struggling in difficult circumstances, … or whether, like the disciples, you sometimes walk along the road of life, feeling privileged and self-assured, oblivious to the needs of those around you, or whether like the townspeople, you are open to receive new truths from an unlikely source – Jesus meets you where you are, loves and accepts you, knowing all you have ever done. Jesus offers us a relationship of living water, that satisfies our deepest needs, that becomes a well-spring of joy that overflows in our love and service towards others, and that connects us to God’s eternal goodness.
You never know who you might meet at the well!
Lord give us some of that Living Water! Amen