That Day at the Well
I remember the heat that day. The blazing hot sun beat down mercilessly. I didn’t mind at all. The heat was fine with me. The heat was why I went to the well at noontime anyway. No respectable person went to the well in the heat of a Palestinian day. That’s when I went. It was easier that way. No sideways glances. No odd looks and whispered remarks. They might have talked about me, but they would not have spoken to me anyway.
I was the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time.
As I approached the well, I could see that someone was already there. A traveler no doubt. Who else at this time of day? As I got closer, I could see by his manner of dress, that he was a Jew. A Jew, heh? Well that settles it. I wouldn’t have to worry about this one. No need to draw water for him, or even speak to him. Jews and Samaritans don’t mix. Especially not Jewish men and Samaritan women. It is simply not done.
The Jews view us Samaritans as beneath them. It had been so for hundreds of years. We worshipped the same God, but disagreed on where the Temple should be located. But there was more to it than that. Two hundred years earlier, the Samaritans had fought with the Syrians against the Jews and the Jews had destroyed the Samaritan temple. There was bad blood between us and Jews.
I looked more closely at the man as I got to the well. He was obviously hot and sweaty from a morning on the road. He must belong to the group of Jewish men I passed on the way out of town. As I began to draw water the man did the most amazing thing. He asked me for a drink. That was not right. It simply wasn’t done. What was the man thinking?
I wanted to put this Jewish man back in his place. I asked, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”
The man smiled. I didn’t expect that. I did know that any food or drink touched by a Samaritan was unclean for a Jew. The way he was acting was scandalous. And yet I was surprised. Others seemed to see me as insignificant. Not worth wasting their time on.
But this man was different. I know what you are thinking. It wasn’t like that.
He asked me for a drink of water. A simple request. He had nothing to use to draw the water. It was a hot day. He was obviously thirsty. It was only natural. But this natural act went against everything I was raised to believe. I knew that somehow in drinking water drawn by me would place this Jewish Rabbi at some risk. What if the men who had ben with him came back. What would they think of their teacher then?
Then the man said the oddest thing. He said, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who I am, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.” I didn’t understand. I look back on it now and laugh, but I really had no idea what he was talking about. I said, “But sir, you don't have a rope or a bucket," I said, "and this is a very deep well. Where would you get this living water?”
But that wasn’t enough. I thought back to our common ancestor, the one who dug the well. I said, “And besides, are you greater than our ancestor Jacob who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his cattle enjoyed?” I would come to realize that Jesus was much greater than our ancestor, Jacob. But I didn’t know that yet.
Jesus replied so lovingly, “People soon become thirsty again after drinking this water. But the water I give them takes away thirst altogether. It becomes a perpetual spring within them, giving them eternal life.”
Living water. That sounded wonderful. Living water would be much fresher than well water. I got excited about this living water. The man has promised that he can give her water so that I would never thirst again. Never again would I come to this well in the heat of the day. This living water is just what I needed. I had no idea yet that he was speaking of the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit is the life giving water that will quench our spiritual thirst. Once that thirst has been quenched, we will be spiritually thirsty no more. I know that now. But at the time, I was just thinking of not having to go to the well again.
That’s when everything unraveled. Jesus asked me to go and bring my husband back with me. The question cut me down. It was the same old problem again. I was so ashamed. I looked down at the ground. I waited. I didn’t dare look him in the eyes. I just kept staring at the ground and said, “I have no husband.”
He smiled again. He looked pleased. It was as if I had passed some test. Later I realized he was just glad that I had told the truth. The truth that he already knew. Jesus said, “No you have had five husbands and the one you have now is not your husband.”
This is the point in the story where everybody gets it wrong. They hear my story and wander off down the wrong path. Because of Jesus’ comments about my husbands, I have been branded a sinner. Because of Jesus’ comments about my husbands, I have been branded a tramp. Because of Jesus’ comments about my husbands, I have been dismissed as insignificant.
But that’s not what Jesus did. Jesus never dismisses me. Jesus did not pronounce me a sinner in need of repentance. Jesus did not denounce me as a tramp. The Bible tells you that I had had five husbands, but it never mentions divorce or infidelity. I might have been on the margins of my own society. I might have been afraid to mingle with the women from my own town. But Jesus never said that it was my fault. He knew. He knew me better than anyone.
That is why I found the courage to say what came next, “Lord, I can see you are a prophet,” and then I asked him the burning theological question of my people. I said, “Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you people claim that the place where one should worship God is in Jerusalem.” This was really important. I knew that this man could point me to the true worship of God.
Then Jesus explained that where we worship God is not as important as how. He told me that we are to worship God in Spirit and Truth. And if we open our spirits to worship God in Truth then where we worship doesn’t matter. We can worship God anywhere.
I was amazed at what the man, the prophet, told me. I knew in my heart that he was speaking the truth. I could feel it. I said, “I know the Messiah is coming and he will announce all things to us.” But what I really meant was “Are you The One? Are you the Messiah?” Jesus knew me statement as a question and answered me saying, “I who speak to you—I am he.”
Just then, the disciples come back to the well. But that didn’t matter to me anymore. I had spoken to the Messiah. He was right there at Jacob’s well. I couldn’t contain myself. I ran from the well, leaving my water jar hanging on the edge of the void, where I had been only moments before. I went to town and gathered people together. I began shouting excitedly, “Come and see a man who has told me everything I have ever done! Could this be the Messiah?”
They believed me. Notice this. They believed me. Me. The woman who didn’t go to the well when others were drawing water? They believed me? Maybe they never despised me. It was my own self esteem that was so low that I was the one who didn’t dare be around them. But now it was different. The Messiah had come. I couldn’t be afraid. The message was not about me. The message I had for my people was about God. And they did listen and believe.
Amazing. Jesus’ own disciples had just come to this town, yet they didn’t evangelize the people. They came and went without changing a thing in my town. But me, the woman who no one noticed changed everything. I was empowered by the spirit of God to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom to my own people. Though I would never have guessed this could have happened as I went out to the well that day, I became a leader of my people. I led them to God, in the person of Jesus, the Christ.
What about you? Do you think that God can’t or won’t use you? Or have you, like I had, forgotten your own worth as a child of God? If so, you are in danger of surrendering yourself so completely to others, that you have no life of your own.
Don’t get me wrong, Jesus did teach that we are to serve others and put others needs ahead of our own. But putting others ahead of yourself is not all that Jesus taught. He also taught that all of creation is valuable to God. All creation has a unique worth in the eyes of our creator. When you don’t value your own worth as a unique and special creation of God, it can lead to sin. Not valuing yourself as God values you can lead to neglecting your own inner life and burying the unique talents God has given you.
See how Jesus responded to me when others ignored me and when I avoided them as well. Jesus saw the truth in me. Jesus saw me as a priceless gem—a child of God. Jesus revealed his Kingdom to me and invited me in.
I arrived at the well considering myself worthless. But I heard and responded to Jesus’ call and in doing so regained my own sense of identity. Then, I didn’t just follow Jesus; I led my people to him.
We are all God’s children, loved and adored by our creator who is calling us home. Not one of us is insignificant to God. Not one of us is unworthy to lead God’s people.
Because your worth as a human is not about who you are in the eyes of others. Your worth as a human is determined by who you are in the eyes of God. And to God, you are a beloved child. You are fully known and deeply loved. This I promise you.
The Rev. Frank Logue, Pastor
Labels: Gospel reading