A Well Run Dry

No, not this “well.” I’d like to take a moment to reflect on a meeting between Jesus and an unnamed woman that took place next to an ancient well. But that’s not the well run dry I’ve alluded to in the title. Be patient; I’ll get there. Eventually. Promise.

One day, Jesus decides to pass through the country settled by the Samaritan people. This is an odd decision because Jesus is a Jew, and Jews do not associate with Samaritans. Jews would go as many miles out of their way as it took to avoid walking though land containing this “tainted” sub-race. “Everyone’s a little bit racist,” as the song goes. Except Jesus. He knew where He needed to start, but also knew where He would finish.

So He decides to forgo cultural norms and walk through the “seedy” side of the country. When He and His crew reach the ancient well of Jacob, He plops down, says He’s tired, and send the boys into town to grab slushies and honey buns at the local Quickie Mart. Nothing like discomfiting a bunch of straight-laced, uptight church boys, eh? This is what you call on-the-job training. So Jesus is resting by the well while his disciples are crowding into town in one giant pack of OMGwhatarewedoinghere?

It’s noon, which means that respectable people are in town getting work done and only the dregs of society trudge out to the well in the midday heat. Oh, look who’s coming. That woman. Oh, yes; everyone in the area knows that woman. But Jesus isn’t from the area, so only her timing at the well gives any clue about who and what she is. Jesus should have been able to rest without coming into any potentially contaminating contact with Samaritans, and here comes that woman to upset all His plans. So much for being the upstanding Rabbi, never sullied by the dregs of the world.

But Jesus never does things by the man-made book, but rather by the Book His Father wrote. So not only does He not distance Himself from the unwanted, unwashed presence of this inferior woman, He actually talks to her.

In case you didn’t realize, men talking to women they don’t know is a big no-no in the Middle East. Still is to this day. But Jesus ignores all that and asks her to draw some water for Him to drink. Gaw, one faux pas after another! Dude, get a clue! You don’t talk to Samaritans, you don’t talk to strange women, and you don’t eat or drink anything they’ve touched! Do you not know the meaning of kosher???

Jesus knows, and He really doesn’t care. What religious people do to set themselves apart from the world usually keeps them apart from the world. People who live in isolation miss out on a lot, and Jesus never misses anything.

This woman lives in isolation, even though she had neighbors. They shun her because she made choices they don’t approve of. She is immoral and doesn’t care about their delicate sensibilities. I doubt that she had any friends who would help her through a rough patch of life.

Anyhow, back to the story. Jesus asks her to give Him something to drink; it is noon and it is hot, after all. She looks at Him like He’s nuts, which is a pretty normal reaction. She wonders aloud why He’s asking her for a drink (see racial tension listed above). And then He comes back with, “If you knew Who I am, you’d ask Me for a drink of Living water.”

I can only imagine that there was a looooooong pause right about here, and since it amuses me to do so, I will. The Jew has no bucket, jar, vase, or spoon, so how is He going to get water out of this deep well? And what is this crud about “living” water? If your water is “living”, then you need to boil it before drinking or you’ll learn about Sprue the hard way.

When confronted by a crazy person, the best thing to do is go along with the crazy, right? So she tells Him sure, hand over the living water so I don’t have to keep coming back to get more every day. (Crazy Jew)

And now He remembers His manners and tells her to go bring her husband so they can talk as is all polite and such. I wonder how quick she was to answer. How much anger was in her voice? How much shame? Did she hold herself with dignity or did she slouch a bit? A woman without a husband in that day and age was a woman scorned. And a woman openly living with a man she wasn’t married to … Can anyone say social pariah?

Yet Jesus isn’t shocked by her admission. (Of course not; crazy people are never shocked, right?) But He immediately turns it around and shocks her. “Yes, that’s right. And not only do you not have a husband right now, you’ve had five husbands already.”

I wonder if people back then had the concept of Creepy Stalker Guy? She might have wondered that, but what she said was, “Oh. So you’re a prophet.” Personally, I’d much rather have a load of prophets wandering around instead of the Creepy Stalkers we have nowadays. Some would argue there isn’t much difference, but we’ll move along now.

Here’s where the really interesting part of the story comes, the part that connects with the title of this ramble. Scholars usually divide into two camps on the woman’s next statement, but I think it’s a mixture of both views. You see, her next question is about religion, about the difference between what Samaritans believe and what Jews believe. Jesus just laid one of her deepest, darkest secrets out like so much CSI evidence, so she changes the subject post haste.

Or does she? This is another spot where I like to imagine a long pause, though this isn’t nearly as awkward as the other. I can see a stream of thoughts and emotions chasing over her face, welling up within her and spilling onto her cheeks. Maybe she doesn’t actually cry, but most people who have a personal encounter with Jesus tend to express their response in saline. Just happens. But I don’t believe that her question was as diversionary as it seems in a cold reading.

“You Jews worship God on your holy mountain in your holy city. We Samaritans worship here, in the desert, on this mountain. Which is the right way?”

The well that ran dry was inside this woman. The wellspring of emotions, life, laughter, sorrow, joy … it was dry and baked under the remorseless glare of propriety. She’d made some bad choices. She’d messed up. But so has everyone! Yet we categorize “sins” and say that this is worse than that and at least I’m not as bad as she is. This Samaritan woman had become the focal point for all the scorn and condemnation of her village, the one everyone mocked so that no one would look too closely at their lives.

When Jesus opened up her heart with His customary efficiency, she realized that not only did He see all of who she was all and of what she had done, but He wasn’t turning away from her. He knew her shame, and He didn’t condemn her. He knew how horrible a person she was, and He didn’t cast her off.

I wonder how many people in her life had ever given her unconditional acceptance before then. I wonder how many people had loved her without artifice, expectations, or tags.

In that moment, she stood face-to-face with someone Who gave her the love, the sense of belonging she’d forgotten existed. And because He was obviously a holy man, in tune with God, she dared to ask a question, to hint at it, actually.

“Can I enter into the presence of God? Would God ever accept someone like me?”

She’d been told all her life that she didn’t belong, that she couldn’t go to the glorious temple in Jerusalem. She’d been told for more years than are worth counting that her sins kept her away from the local holy place. Where could she, vile wench that she was, go to find God? And would she be welcome?

Jesus, I am sure, replied with a warm smile. He gave her the answer to her spoken question, which was also the answer to her unspoken question. “It isn’t important to go to a specific physical location to worship God because true worship happens in the heart. And yes, your heart is acceptable to God.”

“Worship in Spirit and in truth,” Jesus told her. If what you’re doing isn’t a reflection of who you are, isn’t honest and real, then geography doesn’t matter. The temple or cathedral or ancient circle is worthless if there isn’t a heart behind it.

And your heart is acceptable.

As this woman discovered, Jesus already knows your heart. He knows your past and all your dirty secrets. Yes, there’s cleaning and healing to do, but He’s not going to shove you off until you get yourself presentable. He didn’t require this woman to get married and be respectable before He would talk to her. In fact, He made sure that He was waiting for her, and He made sure they would have a private chat. She came to Jacob’s well at an hour when no one else would be there to humiliate her, and Jesus made sure that his fresh-faced, well-meaning, and bumbling disciples were gone so they wouldn’t inadvertently ruin the moment this woman needed.

He does the same thing for each of us. You could say He lays a trap for us, waiting to catch us up in His embrace and show us that He loves us. The life that flows through everyone can sometimes encounter a drought, and that drought can last decades. Jesus brings a gentle rain, soothing moisture to put life back into our existence.

Take some time to read the story for yourself, and then see what benefit you could get from this Living Water.

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