Christ Knew the Woman Well

Written by Joel on May 16th, 2011

Mar 27, 2011
Third Sunday in Lent
John 4:5-42

Has your life ever been changed by a stranger?

Mile’s Goodwin, in his essay submission to NPR’s “This I Believe” talks about how a brief connection with a stranger 40 years ago has affected him to this day. Miles was returning home from his 1 year service tour in Vietnam. He recalls the animosity towards Vietnam veterans return home, so he hoped just to lay low and get back home to Texas safely. On the flight home he had a window seat, in uniform, with no one sitting beside him. He stared out the window, smoking several cigarettes – worried about what people would say as he walked through the airport. He didn’t make eye contact and just felt so isolated from the world. Then a 10 year girl walked up to him on the plane and offered Miles a magazine. It was a quite gesture of welcome.

Miles has no idea why she may have done it – perhaps her mother told her to, perhaps her own father was serving in Vietnam. He said it was not important why it happened, just that it did. It was that small gesture that reminded him that he was home. Miles has since tried to follow the young girl’s example in his own life, hoping that his small gestures have the same effects on others.

How much more of an encounter with a stranger did the woman at the well have with Christ! Christ was a thirsty stranger at the well and presented to her much more than words or gestures. He offered life giving water.

Our Lord was on his way from Judea to Galilee in order to escape some heat from the Phrasiees who were not very happy about the baptisms that were going on. Jesus and his disciples took the direct route back to Galilee. Judea, Galilee, and Samaria were all regions, and you might think of them like States. Some Jews would avoid Samaria entirely as they traveled because it was considered unclean. Kind of like when I go home to Maryland from Virginia, the quickest way is to pass through about 30 miles of West Virginia (though if I really wanted to avoid WV I could and only add about 10 miles to the trip). I’m not making any connections between Samaria and WV by the way :)

Remember they traveled by foot back then, and this was a 70 mile trip. What takes us just over an hour today would have taken Christ 2 and a half days, of walking. Jesus takes a rest stop in Sychar.

So, already we are set up for some controversy. Jesus, a Jew, in a sacramentally unclean land – with sacramentally unclean people…but he was tired. The disciples gathered some food and Christ takes a break by the well under the hot noon-day sun.

As he is resting, a woman approaches the well. And Jesus, as tired as he was asks for a favor of a drink of water from a Samaritan woman! She recognizes the oddity of the request. And I can’t quite think of a modern equivalent, but it may have been like segregation America the white and black drinking fountains, bathrooms, etc. And breaking those social rules. But the woman appears to play along and they get to talking of water and of living water.

The life giving water which makes you not be thirsty ever again. It sounded like a pretty good deal to the woman, but Christ still being a stranger, she laughs at him saying “I would love some of that water and then I wouldn’t have to come all the way out here again.”

Jesus, still the stranger, gets personal. Sure, it starts with an innocent enough question – “Why don’t you go and fetch your husband and we’ll talk about this living water business.” She seems to say, I hear it as matter-of-factly “I don’t have any husband.” And then Jesus drudges up some personal baggage of the woman, brining in the 5 husbands she has had. This stranger seems to know her!

A long standing interpretation of this text is that the woman is an adulterer or even a harlot and that Jesus has compassion on her, even forgiving her sins. But, scripture does not state this. It never says that she sins nor that Jesus forgives; and the circumstances of the five marriages remain unknown. Perhaps the five husbands have died – image the heartache of going through the death of a spouse five times. Perhaps the husbands all used her and divorced her; remember in those days men could write a letter of divorce and be done with their wives (maybe they did so because she could not have any children). Image the heartache of being dumped five times! So let’s give the woman at the well the benefit of the doubt. Sin or no sin, she was a woman who knew brokenness; and this stranger at the well knew that brokenness too!

It was in the effort Jesus took to know the woman’s story that she recognized the savior of the world. It was in being known that she was given a drink of that life giving water. It was because she was known that she sought to make him known.

What the contrast from last week’s gospel story of Nicodemus. He a man, she a woman. He was a pharisee, a spiritual leader of the Jewish people; she was a samaritan who was looked down upon by Jews because they didn’t even know the God they worshiped. He was prestigious; she was an outcast. He came under the cover of darkness; she came at the peak of day light. Nicodemus came to Jesus; Jesus approached the woman. Nicodemus went away confused; She went away convicted. He went away keeping the faith quiet; she went and proclaimed the Messiah to the whole village.

This scene takes place at Jacob’s well. Legend had it that when Jacob dug this well that water was so abundant that it bubbled up to the top and no one needed to drop a bucket to get the water. This is why the woman asks “Are you greater than our father Jacob” – are you so great that it will bubble up for you? She meant it as a joke, a rhetorical question, but yeah – Jesus is greater than our father Jacob. And, Christ did cause life giving water to overflow at that well. The outcast woman, coming alone to the well was given a life-giving faith that convicted her to re-enter society and share the good news (this life giving water) with others; because Christ knew her.

The well did overflow, and she became a well overflowing. All by a random encounter with the stranger Christ.

Jesus came to Samaria a stranger, but became known as the Messiah; the savior of the world, the life giving water.


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