I can imagine the scene: a steamy hot day in Palestine. The sun is high in the dry rocky hills. The sky is a clear blue with not a cloud in sight. Not even a desert sparrow or a tiny gecko venture out in the high noon heat. Jesus is tired and hot. He had been up into the wee hours of the night talking with the Pharisee Nicodemus. All morning, He and his disciples have been walking in the sweltering desert sun. They’re thirsty, sweaty, dusty, fatiqued…and the sight of Jacob’s well suggests a welcome resting-place.
So Jesus says to his disciples, ‘you guys go pick us up some take out at the nearest McDesert, I’m going to take a nap under the tree by the well’. And just as He’s getting comfortable, Jesus notices a lone Samaritan woman approaching the well. Perhaps Jesus was feeling like I do when I have just settled down in my favorite chair and the doorbell rings! Her covered head is hung low as she carries her earthen jars towards the ancient stone structure with a trail of noisy children scurrying behind her. Why was she coming now? It was customary for women to gather at the well to draw water and converse in the cool evening light. —Only sinners, outcasts come at noon. WWJD- What would Jesus do? Men don’t talk with women. Not even Rabbis unless her husband is present. And Jews do not speak to unclean, half-breed Samaritans. In every respect, Jesus ought to, and had every right to, condemn, ignore and turn away from a half breed female sinner!
BUT he didn’t. Instead, Jesus spoke– cutting through centuries of suspicion, animosity and tradition. – JESUS SPOKE!—to a woman, a Samaritan, a sinner. Why? Because Jesus sawneither the law nor the prejudice nor the sin. Jesus sees children, female and male, made in His image! – so Jesus speaks.
And in his speaking Jesus builds a bridge that welcomes and loves. With his words, Jesus puts himself on the same page as the woman at the well. He asks her for water and thereby affirms that despite their differences, their traditions, their status in society, they are the same. They share the same need for water– cool, fresh, refreshing water. Jesus not only communicates that He recognizes her as another human being but also that He identifies with her and us, thirsty, tired and even sweaty as we may be.
The conversation continues and Jesus speaks of living water. The Samaritan woman thinks that Jesus is referring to a source of running water yet there was no such source of water nearby and so she questions Jesus’ offer. Nicodemus, the learned Pharisee had had the same trouble the night before, How can a person enter back into his mother’s womb? He too could only perceive of the literal, the physical and isn’t that true for us all? Again we see John leveling the social strata. Don’t we all think first of our physical needs– of the practical, visible, concrete. But perhaps there is another reason we avoid consciously or unconsciously going deeper. Going beneath the surface means touching what is fragile, painful, or sinful. It necessitates the recognition of our vulnerability, our emptiness and shortfall. In an age when “I can make it my own” is the dominant and expected assertion, admitting such vulnerability is often incomprehensible. Who dares to admit that they are thirsty? The Samaritan woman. I wonder what this might mean for the people of God on God’s mission in their neighbourhoods today? What do we need to admit?
Jesus responds with thepromise that those who drink the water He gives them will never be thirsty (verse 14)! A thoughtful conversation ensues which disarms ‘whose in and whose out’ type questions. ALL are invited to worship in Spirit and in truth. Worshipping has nothing to do with gender, race, age, marital status or religion. It has to do with relationship with the One Whom you worship.
‘I know that the Messiah will come with the truth about all things’, the woman responds. “I am” declares Jesus echoing God’s identification of Himself to Moses long ago. “I am” the One who is coming and I am here. I have the words of truth, of life! I am the living water for which you thirst. And isn’t that something?THE ONLY TIME THAT JESUS REFERS TO HIMSELF AS THE MESSIAH other than when He is on trial IS HERE, at the well in the hot noon day sun in Samaria WITH A WOMAN.How can this be?
The woman is moved, stunned, touched, transformed! I can just imagine her racing home, leaping stones, veil flapping in the wind, calling through the streets, breaking with all protocol! —the Messiah is here! He told me everything I’d ever done—come and see! Come and meet Him! You have to come and meet Him! The news of her radical entrance and even more radical testimony spreads through the village like wild fire. People are stunned (in more ways than one, I’m sure!), yet they respond and follow. They go to the well and meet Jesus and Jesus stays with them for several days (verse 40); affirming that indeed, He is “the Savior of the world” (verse 42).
And isn’t that something? The first messenger of the Gospel, of the GOSPEL– is an OSTRACIZED SAMARITAN FEMALE SINNER!? No. The one to whom Jesus first chooses to reveal Himself as the Messiah and the one who first shares this good news is a wise, humble, open and gifted person made in the image of her Creator and called by His Name– who also happens to be female and from Samaria.
According to Jesus, there is no gender issue here. Perhaps, the church need look no further than the accounts of her Lord and Saviour when it comes to discerning what it means to bear witness and declare in word, deed and action, the value, giftedness, equality and calling of both women and men. We are His Sent ones, His image-bearers; truth tellers who embody the good news– and some of us also happen to be female and from Iraq, Korea, Cuba and even Canada! And isn’t that something?