Woman at the well
Ian Thompson writes:
“You’ve led a sheltered life!” observed colleagues at my first place of work. They noticed that I didn’t swear, was shocked at some of their jokes and was generally unaware of their world. At lunchtimes I would walk alone for exercise. If joining them in the pub, I declined to chip in to a “kitty”, pointing out that one drink was enough for me.
In my youth, I was a shy misfit, habitually distant, only gradually learning how to socialise. However, I was keen to learn about the life experiences of others, and was surprised to discover that God had His hand on some of the most unlikely lives. In this reading, I find someone else who is socially isolated.
Fetching water was, and still is for many in “developing” countries, a long walk for a woman or girl, with a heavy load on the return. The sociable can walk and talk together, find safety in numbers, and help each other bear their burdens. Not so the woman from Sychar!
Socially distanced, by her own choice or by the rejection of others, she endures the noonday heat to fetch water from the historic livestock-well of Jacob instead of perhaps a more convenient water source in the town, where her neighbours would exchange gossip. Conversations “at the water-cooler” are nothing new! There she might be accused, abused or worse by the townsfolk because of her unconventional lifestyle.
Jesus, alone, and thirsty from his journey, greets the woman with a simple request for water, but He is a Jew! Should He be using her supposedly “unclean” container to drink water drawn by her, an “unclean” Samaritan?
She is intrigued by Jesus’ offer of “living,” or does He mean “running,” water because it sounds convenient to her, but when Jesus asks her to fetch her husband, she admits she doesn’t have one. Jesus brings up her several failed relationships. The woman is impressed by His insight, but tactfully suggests that a Jewish prophet should be prophesying in Jerusalem, not here in Samaria.
Jesus replies that, while the Jews know about salvation, true worshippers can meet God anywhere, not just in traditional, special places, as we have been discovering in lockdown. The woman connects Jesus’ prediction with ideas about the coming Messiah, who “will tell us everything.” (Bingo!) “I am He,” responds Jesus.
Social distancing suddenly ends. The disciples return; the woman goes back to the town with the enticing line, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did,” and brings along a crowd of people eager to find out more. Dare I be so open and honest about my own personal life?
Jesus points out to the disciples that something better than lunch is going on: soul-harvest – now! He and His disciples break traditional taboos and stay on two days. Many Samaritans become believers as a result of Jesus’ teaching. Could I commit my own time and maybe some of my money to “soul-winning”?
For all of us in 2020, the time came when we could “worship the Father” neither in church nor in chapel, but through television, radio, Skype, Zoom, social media or even good old telephone. As places of worship are tentatively opened up again, we pray that our worship, wherever and however it takes place, will be in the true spirit.
As we slowly and carefully emerge from lockdown and social distancing, we hope for more chances of meeting to share and to find out about others’ life experiences and faith journeys. May we be ready to listen as well as speak, so we can pray that Jesus, the Messiah, “will tell us and others everything.”
O Dduw haelionus,
dy Fab Iesu Grist
sy’n rhoi dŵr y bywyd tragwyddol:
bydded i ni sychedu amdanat ti,
ffynnon bywyd a ffynhonnell daioni,
trwyddo ef sy’n fyw ac yn teyrnasu,
yn awr a hyd byth. Amen.
whose Son Jesus Christ
gives the water of eternal life:
may we thirst for you,
the spring of life and source of goodness,
through him who is alive and reigns,
now and for ever. Amen.