CathyHird 21Dec22

Waiting your turn to get water from a communal well is a social time. Morning brings a crowd to draw for the day’s needs. Evening brings the flocks and their headsmen. The well provides a space for catching up.

But there is a story in the gospel of John about two people who went to a well at midday intending to be alone.

One of the people is Jesus. He left Jerusalem because the people who are talking about him clearly do not understand what he is about. He needs to get out of the city, back to rural Galilee. This journey takes him through Samaria where a people live who, though closely related to his people, do not get along. The disciples go into town to get food, and he waits alone at the well.

The second person is a woman from town. It is strange for her to come at this time. We learn later that she is likely the victim of vicious gossip, so maybe she avoids the busy times and prattling voices. When she realizes a strange man is there, she must be worried. But water is a necessity. I imagine she would lift her shoulders, keep her eyes on her task.

But Jesus speaks to her. He breaks his reverie and says, “Give me a drink.” With this he breaks with convention: a man would not address a woman he does not know.

The woman has spunk. “How is it that you a Jew ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria.”

Jesus gets all metaphysical. “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is speaking to you, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

I imagine her rolling her eyes. Not only is he hitting on her, he is claiming superiority. She strikes back: “You have no bucket and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Do you think you are better than our ancestor Jacob who gave us this well?” He seems to be claiming his people have access to “life-giving” spirituality. She reminds him that they are related, that they come from the same great ancestor. “What makes you better than him?” she seems to ask.

“Well water is dead water,” he seems to say. “The water I bring is fresh flowing, overflowing, bringing abundant, joy-filled life.”

“Wouldn’t we all like that,” she says, rather sarcastically.

The next part always feels hurtful to me. Jesus instructs her to go and get her husband even though he somehow knows she has been married five times and now has had to accept a less than formal relationship just to get by.

She pushes back again pointing out that there is an insurmountable problem between their two people in that each claims their mountain is the proper place to worship God.

“That may have been true,” he says, “but God is doing a new thing. The Spirit is opening a new way.” 

“I know this is coming through the Messiah.” Despite all she has been through, she holds on to hope.

“I am he,” Jesus says just as the disciples arrive back with lunch.

TWomanAtWell leadinhe crowd of nattering disciples sees her, and they are astonished Jesus is talking with her. They ignore her so that she retreats a step or two, leaving her jug by the well. Suddenly, she turns and hurries back to the town, to the people she usually avoids, tells everyone that the Messiah is at their well. The disciples hadn’t talked much in town, just bought food. But the people listen to this woman and come to meet Jesus. Here, in the middle of hostile territory, away from the religious centre, he found people ready to listen. He stays with them two more days.

When Jesus and the disciples leave, the people say to the woman that they believed at first because she did, but now they know themselves that he was the saviour of the world. Not of Israel. Not of Samaria. Of the world. They come to see a way through all the divisions.

Two people sought out solitude for different reasons. But in that solitude, there was an encounter that reached through what divided them to something new.

Cathy Hird lives on the traditional territory of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation.





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