The sun was high in the sky when she came to the well. The cool of the morning would have been long gone and evening was still hours away. She came to the well for the same reason anyone would, to get water for the household for drinking, for washing, for cooking. It was a necessity and the well was the closest place to find the water she needed. She didn’t just run out; women knew how to gauge water use so that they only had to go once a day to get it, usually early in the morning when the air was cool and other women would be there to chat with and share the neighborhood news. Yet this woman came at noon, alone and almost furtively, to get water for her household and this visit to Jacob’s well changed her life.
There was a man sitting there by the well, feet dusty from the road, thirsty but with no bucket or waterskin to lower into the water. She was the first person he encountered who might be able to help him. This was a precarious cultural moment. He did not know her, was not related to her, and she had no male escort to whom he could address his request for a drink. She, being a woman and, as we learn, one with a “past,” would have been taken aback that he should even speak to her, especially since it helped to establish that he was a Jew and Jews just did not associate with Samaritans who, in their view, were outcasts and sinners, yet here was a Jew asking her, a Samaritan, for a drink of water as if he lived just down the block or she were a sister. I wonder what was going through her mind as all this was taking place. Should she run away? Custom said that if he were thirsty he should be given something to drink yet he was offering living water to her, not merely the well water she could give him. What was this about?
Jesus spoke of her past and it opened her eyes a bit. “I see you are a prophet, sir,” she said. A prophet is someone who sees things other people don’t and who also isn’t afraid to speak of what other people would generally ignore or excuse away. As he was a stranger and not a local, his knowledge of her past was something he could not have known any other way other than by divine revelation. The fact that he spoke of this in a way that was not condemning or shaming but as a matter-of-fact recital of fact undoubtedly made a change in her that was almost instantaneous.
He definitely made an impression on her. She ran back to the village, proclaiming loudly to whoever could and would hear that there was a prophet among them who had told her everything that she had done, and who is offering living water. For once people listened to her, the outcast, and they too came to hear Jesus. Suddenly, almost in the blink of an eye, she went from an outcast to what we might consider the first evangelist or, at least, the first woman evangelist.
We all have situations in our lives where we would rather be somewhere else, places and situations where we definitely try to avoid being s because we’re embarrassed or shy or perhaps just hesitant, not being sure of how we would be received for some reason or other. It can be very uncomfortable. It’s easy to understand the woman at the well because, on some level, I think everyone has been in those shoes or sandals at least once in their lives. Luckily for the Samaritan woman, the man there was Jesus. Thinking of her situation, it makes me wonder if sometimes, when I have walked into a strange situation and not been totally sure of how it was to work out, maybe there wasn’t a bit of Jesus present and asking for my attention, asking me for water, offering me something over and above anything that I had ever had.
I have walked in the Samaritan woman’s shoes. I have been in some strained situations due to my own bad choices, misstatements and misunderstandings. I was grateful when someone offered me a hand of friendship or some expression that told me that they saw me as a human being who has value even though I had made some pretty rotten mistakes in my life. Maybe I didn’t meet Jesus in those times, but I think I met people who reflected who Jesus was and what Jesus was about. They may not have offered me living water but they did offer a cooling draft to my parched soul. I think that was the Jesus in them, whether they knew it or not.
Sometimes when you give you get back something far more and far better than you offered. There are plenty of people around who are thirsty for more than water but who don’t have a bucket or even know where the well might be found. Sometimes even Google doesn’t have a clue as to where to find it and how to tap into it. It takes a human heart and human hands to do that, and those are what Jesus expects us to use to help the thirsty of the world.
It’s our turn to go out and draw water for the world. There are a lot of thirsty people out there waiting. One of them just might be Jesus.