It always amazes me how, with just a few words, Jesus can flip things on their heads. It was high noon, the hottest time of the day. Jesus, weary from his long travels, stops at a cool spot to rest while his friends go off into town in search of food. While he is sitting there, a woman with a clay jar approaches to draw water from the well. Jesus made a simple request that would change her life forever, “will you give me a drink?”
Now in our 21st-century mind, there is nothing wrong with this question, but this is not the 21st century, this is the first century Palestine and Jesus is not only a man but a Jew and a rabbi. Jews were not supposed to speak to Samaritans. Men were not permitted to address women without their husbands present. Rabbis had no business talking to women such as the one before him. But, Jesus, once again, breaks the rules to speak with her.
We do not know much about her; John does not even give her a name in this story. She is a total outsider, a woman in a man’s world, a stranger to Judaism. She comes at high noon, the hottest time of the day, to draw water, so she will not be seen by others; her reputation is well known around the town. She is a nobody, but not to Jesus.
With all of the societal issues facing him, Jesus does not turn away from the woman he engages her in conversation. After he asks for a drink, she questions him about why he is asking for it. “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman,” she reminded him. “How can you ask me for a drink?” Although she is unfamiliar with most of the teachings of Judaism, she is well aware of her place in society, and it comes as a shock to her that Jesus would ask this question of her.
The conversation continues and takes a turn she was not expecting.
Jesus starts to share the Gospel with 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.” But she is clever and thinks of things in practical terms and asks how he would draw water from such a deep well without a bucket. He tells her, “Everyone who drinks of this water,” the water from the physical well, “will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them,” spiritual water, “with never be thirsty.”
Now she is interested, and she asks him for the water, then the tricky but happens.
Jesus asks her to go and call her husband and when she replies that she does not have a husband Jesus relates her entire life story to her. Jesus, and following Jesus, can be challenging and requires us to face things we don’t want to face. He is honest with her and lays open her past but does not judge her; he shows her compassion and love. She is not shamed by Jesus about her past, and so she is willing to continue the conversation and eventually comes to the point of confession about her past. Because of this gentle, loving treatment, she is now free for discipleship and to become a witness for the Gospel.
But imagine if the story had gone another way. Imagine if Jesus just ignored her when she approaches. Society would have said nothing, he was a man, and she was an unaccompanied woman. What if he screamed at her that she was a sinner and she was going to hell if she did not change her ways. What if he followed her home and set up a picket line outside of her house. Or what if he just sneered at her and gave her that look. If he had done any one of those things, this woman would have continued to be a nobody and disappeared back into the shadows of her life.
But that is not what happens, what we see here played out in the Gospel today is a dramatic transformation of this woman from and outsider to a witness, she has become a model for those of us who feel like outsiders and nobodies. She is a model for those who are new to the faith and have questions but might be afraid to ask. She is a model for those of us with a past that maybe feel like if we step foot inside of a church, we are going to be judged for that past and deemed not worthy of the kingdom.
But let’s get back to the conversation. The conversation begins with a question, not from the woman, but from Jesus. Jesus is the one who is thirsty in the story. “Can a little thing like a cup of cool water, offered in love, be the beginning of a salvation journey? Yes, and we will never know until we meet the stranger, and tend to the human needs first.” Jesus had a human need, and it was that need that drew her into the conversation that would change her life.
This story can be a challenge to us because it reminds the church and us, that people who are nobodies to us are somebodies to Jesus. Who are the nobodies? The people we ignore. We often prefer to leave out the nobodies, but Jesus does not do that, he welcomes the outsiders, as well as the insiders into discipleship and so must we.
The woman leaps up and runs off, back to the town she lives in, a town that barely tolerates her for the way she has been living her life. A town that forces her to go to the well at high noon to draw water when no one else is around. She returns to this place and exclaims, “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did…” She does not complete that sentence, but we can, “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did and loved me anyway.” She does not say those words, but they are implied by the joy that she now has in her heart. For the first time, someone saw her as a person and not as a sinner, and loved her anyway.
For Jesus to know what she had done in her past, and still love and forgive her was new and radical for her. The man who told her everything she had ever done… and loved her anyway… is what saved her life. At that moment, she saw God, she received Christ and leaped up to tell everyone.
Jesus supports us as we move toward him and grow in faith. He wants us to deepen and extend our faith, to recognize and acknowledge him for who he is and for what he has done in our lives. Jesus encounters and welcomes many into the household of faith, and he does it with love. He welcomes the outsiders and the insiders, the sinner and the saints and he welcomes the most unlikely, he even welcomes us.