In a book full of stories that shape and form our understanding of God, the story of the woman at the well is one that seems to always have something more to say about the nature of God. The Scriptures and the way they have been lived out and are lived out in our own faith community shape our view of God, our image of God. They create a picture in our minds of the one we turn to in times of trouble, the one we celebrate with in times of joy, and the one who continually invites us to a deeper love relationship. What images of God come to mind as you read this story? What does God look like in this story? What does God act like in this story?
So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’ Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’
Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come back.’ The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one who is speaking to you.’
Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, ‘What do you want?’ or, ‘Why are you speaking with her?’ Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, ‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?’ They left the city and were on their way to him (John 4:5-30).
What did this women think when she saw Jesus at the well? What was going through her mind as he spoke to her? Curiosity? Concern? Fear? Excitement? Will this man ridicule me as so many others have done and still do? Will he ask something of me that I cannot do or do not want to do?
These sorts of questions and others like them are somewhat instinctive when encountering a new person or situation. We have a natural tendency to assess the impact of something new on ourselves from our own point of view. What does this mean to me? How does this fit into my world, my life?
We may ask those sorts of questions as we read the story and as we imagine what the woman was thinking as Jesus spoke to her, but we need to think about the other character in this story. What is God doing in this story? Given what God is doing in the story, what does this say about God? What would it mean for us to encounter such a God as this?
In a way, we all sit by our own well in the heat of the day. We go there when we know no one else is around because it is a hard place for us to be. Our wells do not provide water so much as they hold our tears, tears that we have cried over failures and disappointments, tragedies and heartaches. We are startled to see someone at our well; we would rather be alone. But this one knows every tear we have shed. In fact, he knows everything there is to know about us.
He does not turn away from us or ridicule us. He offers us water, living water, from a well that never will run dry.