The Woman at the Well

Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
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.)
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
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.”
He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

This passage bothers me sometimes.  Maybe it’s the somewhat formal language of scripture.  Maybe the nuance is lost in recording and translating.  But sometimes, this conversation starts to sound brittle in my ears.  I feel like Jesus is playing with this woman.  I wonder why he bothered to talk to her at all if he was only going to ask for her husband before getting to the good part.  I wonder why he doesn’t just come out and say what he means.

(Reading the passage this way probably means I am tired and that I have spent too much time today pondering the nuances of language in the questionnaire I am developing for a research methods course.  This is not the text’s fault.  Fortunately, God is gracious.)

My scripture reading for today cut off in the middle of this story, one line above where I cut it off in this post.  I’m not sure why I read just the next line, but I did.  And then I thought, “Why on earth is Jesus asking that question?”

Jesus already knows the woman’s social and sexual history.

Jesus already knows she’s going to say she has no husband.

Jesus knows that this question would be awkward and painful for her.

Can you imagine?  Standing at the well, talking to this Rabbi who knows nothing about you?  With this Jewish man who should spurn you based on your ethnicity alone but instead engages you?  A clean slate!  A conversation without snide remarks and sideways glances.  A few moments in which you can almost be someone’s equal . . .

And then he asks the question.

And you cringe.

Of course he wants to talk to your husband.  And with that single statement, he has reminded you of exactly who you are: loose woman, shameless hussy, worthless slut.  You try to make a reasonable-but-vague excuse, but you can already feel the shift.  He won’t believe you anymore than you believe yourself.

But then . . .

He knows.

And he’s still here.

Why is he still here?

You can’t exactly start a conversation with “So I hear you’ve had multiple husbands and you’re currently living with your boyfriend.  That’s cool.”  It’s sort of a mood killer.  But Jesus, with his patient word games, brought the woman to a place of vulnerability, a place where she expected rejection, and then told her it was okay.  He accepted her.  In the moment she expected to lose the most important conversation she’d had in her life, he turned the tables and said, “I already know.  I know, and I choose to talk to you anyway.”

Jesus meets us in our broken places.  He meets us in the loneliness of our sin.  He meets us in the shame of our pasts.  He meets us in the secrets we dare not whisper, even to ourselves.  He meets us there and engages us.  He challenges our broken ways of thinking.  He loves us, heals us and sends us out whole.

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