The Bible is filled with some major players. The Samaritan woman at the well is one from the New Testament.
When Megan and I traveled to Austin, Texas, we made the decision NOT to rent a car. We decided that we would walk the streets of Austin as much as possible to experience the culture and the city. And to save money. On more than one occasion, we walked miles to get from one end of the city to another to get the tacos we were told we had to get; to go into the store Uncommon Objects; to museums.
Even though it was September, it was hot in Austin! After walking for miles, we had to stop and get some water. We were thirsty. And if you have ever walked or worked out in the heat for a long period of time, you know that feeling of needed ice, cold, water.
I imagine that is what Jesus felt in John 4 when he comes to Jacob’s Well. He had been waiting for miles and he needed some cool, refreshing, water. So he stops at this well. In Samaria.
We should for a moment mention that Jews and Samaritans were like oil and water. They did not get along, and that is putting it mildly. Jesus was traveling from Judea to Galilee. The straight way to get there is through Samaria. Most Jews, however, would take the long way and go around Samaria to avoid interacting with Samaritans. But, Jesus was not most Jews.
Why did Jesus cross through Samaria? To get to the other side.
But also perhaps because the Son of God knew that there was a woman who needed to hear that she, too, is offered the gift of grace.
John’s gospel says that Jesus arrived at the well at noon. It may seem like a minor detail, but its a significant fact. Noon is the hottest part of the day. While Jesus is sitting there, a Samaritan woman, who is never identified by name in John’s gospel, came to draw water from the well. At noon. The hottest part of the day.
Most women went to the well either early in the morning or later in the evening. This was so they could get the water they need for the day. It was cooler, making it easier to carry the jars of water from the well back into the village. And, the women mostly went to the well in groups.
So for this Samaritan woman to be coming to the well in the middle of the day alone should send up a red flag for us. There is something different about this woman. Not to mention, this guy named Jesus. Tradition says that a man should not speak to a woman in public who is not a relative. Tradition is also pretty clear that a Jewish man should not be speaking to a Samaritan woman.
As far as tradition goes, this nameless woman now has two strikes against her. Despite this fact, Jesus speaks to her. He asks her for a drink. And during the course of the conversation, the third strike is revealed.
Jesus: Go, call your husband and come back.
Woman: I have no husband.
Jesus: You are right. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.
Oh snap! Jesus knows! Here is a woman who has been married multiple times and is now living with a man whom she is not married too. Without a husband, the Samaritan woman was bound for a life of poverty or worse. She had no basic rights without a husband. Which means, while courting this possible sixth husband, she had no property, no house, no anything.
The fact that she was an unmarried woman living with a man branded her with a scarlet A. She was an outcast, marginalized by her society. We wondered earlier why she would come to the well in the middle of the day? Most likely to avoid the stares and the comments by the other women at the well. She most likely knew what other people thought of her, and it most likely made her feel not too great about herself.
And here is this Rabbi sitting by the well, engaging in a conversation with her about water, faith, and religion. She suddenly felt human again. In the midst of the conversation, she acknowledges that she knows about the Messiah. And then, Jesus relieves that he is whom she speaks of.
Yep, that’s right, early in John’s gospel Jesus relieves himself as the Messiah to a Samaritan woman who is living with a man she is not married to. Jesus relieved himself to an outcast. To a person whom society had deemed a nobody. Maybe that’s why John doesn’t tell us her name, to reinforce her place in society.
Then, leaving the water jar the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” (John 4:28-29)
Come and see, she says, as she runs from the well leaving her water jar behind to tell the others in the village. The people want to hear more from Jesus, and he spends two days with them. In old-school Methodism we called this a Camp Meeting. This woman who was an outcast became an evangelist to the Gospel. She became a teacher, a preacher, a sharer of the Word.
And I imagine that once she started, she couldn’t stop talking about Jesus.
How has Jesus relieved himself as the Messiah to you? How do you talk about Jesus to others?