Jesus and the Woman of Samaria
Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, ‘Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John’— although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized— he left Judea and started back to Galilee. But he had to go through Samaria. 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.
Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, ‘Rabbi, eat something.’ But he said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ So the disciples said to one another, ‘Surely no one has brought him something to eat?’ Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, “Four months more, then comes the harvest”? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.” I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour. Others have laboured, and you have entered into their labour.’
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I have ever done.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there for two days. And many more believed because of his word.They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.’
The UN has decided to mark this day, October 11th, as the International Day of the Girl Child, to emphasize the staggering statistics that almost 39,000 girls become child brides every day. 90% of adolescent pregnancies take place within marriage. And pregnancy and childbirth complications are among the leading causes of death in girls aged 15-19 in developing world countries. Today is a day to think about Marsia, who was married on her ninth birthday. When, after six years of physical and emotional abuse by her 40 year old husband, she accidentally broke his TV, she set herself on fire, preferring suicide rather than face her husband’s wrath.
Or to think about Bibi who was married to a Taliban fighter at age 13. One night she left her bed in the barn next to the goats and the sheep to visit her mother without her husband’s permission. When he caught up with her, he cut off both of her ears and her nose and left her for dead.
At 11, Ghulam became one of the every nine girls who are married before the age of 15. And at 16, Maria lives with three other women, who, after experiencing a stillbirth and doing so much damage to her body laboring alone, no longer has control of her bladder. Constantly leaking urine, she has been rejected by her husband and extended family, and tries to survive by selling firewood on the side of the road.
And this is the story of the unnamed woman, who had married so young to men so far her elders that as they died, one by one, she was passed on to another man, another elderly husband, until, after her fifth husband died, thought cursed, used and alone, she threw herself upon the mercy of a man who was not her husband.
Traded by her father for a couple of goats and a few clay pots long ago, now she is a social outcast, cursed as a “black widow” who brings death wherever she goes, she now resorts to fetching her water from the community well at the hottest, quietest, loneliest time of day. No one would be there to question her morals, to lecture her about what she has done to deserve being widowed or abused or rejected five times over. No one would be around to recoil from her stench of urine and STDs, to shake their heads at her barren womb, to think her an idiot for being illiterate, to send her back to the life from which she ran. At noon, though it was stagnant and warm from the hot sun, she could fetch her water in peace.
But as she nears the well, she sees a man sitting there, just sitting. What could a man want at this time of day? Why isn’t he in the shade with the men puffing pipes and telling stories to while away the hour? Doesn’t he have a wife to feed him his midday meal and prepare his bed for his afternoon rest? And if he doesn’t, what could he want? Certainly more than water. Certainly more than she wanted to give him, especially now that his eyes have met hers. A drink isn’t all this man could want - this Jewish man sitting alone, daring to address a woman, a Samaritan - and someone so despised by society that she had to fetch her water during the heat of the day. As a woman, a Samaritan, a widower/divorcee, she has far more than three strikes, if we’re keeping count. Or maybe this guy sitting here at this well is just an idiot; maybe he has no idea about the filth to whom he speaks. Or maybe he knows exactly who she is, and he wants some too.
“Give me a drink,” he says.
And she responds, but not with a passivity expected from someone so broken as she has been. “Do you realize who you’re talking to? You probably just made yourself ritually unclean by being within ten feet of me, let alone by talking to me, by asking me for something. Do you know who you’re talking to?”
“Do you?” Jesus simply answers her question with a question. “‘Cause if you did know who I was, you'd be the one doing the asking, you’d be the one who needs something from me - living water, welling up to eternal life. The kind of water that does not demand or abuse or neglect or judge or demands purity to acquire, but the kind that simply requires that you ask for it.”
She forgets her place, she forgets her social status, and speaks to Jesus as if she were equal. “How could I ask you for water? You have no water. You have no way to get water. I know my history. This is Jacob’s well. He got water from here, and so did his sons and flocks. I may be abandoned and alone and disconnected from everything and everyone, but I have this water, I have this connection, though weak and shredding and distant, to something big, to Jacob, to tradition, to those who are important and have value. It may be a connection to an abusive system and broken community, but it is all I have.”
And Jesus says, “everyone, the flocks, the sons, Jacob himself, and all who came after him, have to keep coming back to this well to get more water, to quench their thirst. I have a kind of water that is not tied to empty traditions or patriarchy or systems of power that oppress the weak. I have water that is for you, that will keep on coming, forever.”
The idea of indoor plumbing sounds amazing to her. “Sir, give me this water so I don’t have to keep coming out into the public to fetch my water. I want to turn a faucet whenever I want and not risk the ridicule of coming to this place during the heat of the day. I get so thirsty. If I could just stay inside, if I could just get water from the kitchen sink, away from everyone else…maybe I’d be ok. Maybe life wouldn’t be so hard.”
“Go get your husband, and we’ll start drafting the designs for your new indoor plumbing.” Jesus says.
“I have no husband.”
“I know. I know all about you.”
And she braces for the impact, for the slapping and the verbal lashing. She looks for stones in his hands or his pockets.
But then nothing. No chastising. No belittling. No mocking or ridicule. Not an abusive word or a snicker or a scolding or a secret signal to the mob hiding behind the bushes somewhere to begin their ambush. Not a demand for a sexual favor in exchange for keeping all this ugliness a secret for one more day.
Who is this guy?
“I am just a guy who needs a drink,” Jesus says. “A drink from you. You think you’re the outcastiest of all the outcasts, but here I AM, The I AM, asking you for a drink.”
And suddenly everything changes - even as the same sun beats down on the same well on the same woman sold into the same marriages again and again until she became too old to be desirable anymore. No, this Jesus is not talking about indoor plumbing. He’s talking about thirst.
She is thirsty. And Jesus is thirsty.
Her life is changed, not by a flush toilet or a high efficiency washing machine in her newly finished basement, not by theological proof texts of where we should and shouldn’t worship or through complicated exegesis of the Torah. But through the mutuality of thirst.
She has come because she needs water. But really, she needs Jesus’ water. And Jesus has come because — dare we be so bold to say it? — he needs her water. They’re both thirsty. And suddenly, connection, community, life.
She is sharing thirst with Jesus.
Sharing thirst with Jesus means sharing with Jesus all of those things that are accessible to you. We encounter Jesus when we hear "I thirst" and then realize our own thirst in ourselves.
Jesus is accessible to us - not through perfection or perfect belief or assent to the Nicene Creed or the Westminster Confession - Jesus is accessible to us through our thirst. Through our need.
Because Jesus thirsts. Because Jesus needs.
Could we bring out the Jesus in each other when we ask each other for what we need? “Hey friend, I’m thirsty, could you give me a drink?” “Sure, Jesus, I mean Jenn, I’m thirsty too.”
Power isn’t going to bring us Jesus. Power isn’t going to stop the wars and the shootings and the broken bodies washing up on the beach. Only weakness. Only thirst. Mutual thirst.
I think about Mother Teresa who felt so deeply separated from God for the last forty years of her life that she often despaired, she often railed against the radio silence that came through on the other side of her prayers. I just assumed that she felt this darkness because she kept looking for Jesus through her service, and although she could never find him, she was this super patient saint who would keep knocking at the door until her knuckles bled. But maybe it wasn’t what she did that kept her going. Maybe it was her thirst. Maybe she was thirsty, so she gave people water. She found Jesus in her thirst, in her mutual thirst with those she served. Just enough Jesus to keep her constantly thirsting for more. Just enough to rail against the darkness. Just enough to know that there is more.
Maybe nothing was really fixed for this woman at the well. Girls are still getting married too young. Women are still coming to wells during the heat of the day, still being raped as they leave the refugee camps in search of firewood. There are still outcasts.
But for this woman at the well, she’s no longer an outcast alone because Jesus was there, Jesus was thirsty with her. And every time she thirsts, every time she goes back to that well, she shares her mutual thirst with the Creator of the Universe.
This Samaritan woman without a name or a husband leaves her water jar because it is in her thirst, her thirst for Jesus, that she will never thirst again.
Because we encounter Jesus every time we hear someone say, “I thirst, can I have a drink?” and then realize our own thirst in ourselves.
Your thirst for Jesus will quench your thirst. I know. It doesn’t make sense and it’s kind of ridiculous, but this is the way of Christ. We don’t get to God through power or stuff or belief or sinlessness, but through lack, weakness, humility, brokenness, because that’s what we have in common with Christ. Because power is made perfect in weakness.
This child bride turned five times widowed social outcast became empowered by her own thirst. Empowered enough to shout to everyone that she’s broken and weak and fragile and thirsty, too. She’s empowered to believe that others are thirsty, too. Empowered to invite those who have shunned her to come to the water, to come to the living water, to come and, by sharing in their mutual thirst, by sharing in the thirst of Christ, to come and drink their fill.
Jesus comes when we with our perfectionism and our credit card debt and materialism and our crippling depression come together with the tired, the broken, with the child brides with obstetric fistulas and the refugees in rubber dinghies and the addicted and the orphans and the widows and the parents who have lost children and those of us with anxiety disorders and short tempers and even those who think they’ve got it all together with their upwardly mobileness.
Come together. Come. Not to fix each other. But to say, “hey, I’m thirsty too. Can I have a drink from you as broken and struggling as you are, as broken and struggling as I am?”
Maybe the next person to ask you for a drink is the face of Christ, thirsting for you. Maybe you’ll find what you’re thirsting for - deep in the thirst of Christ.
Thanks be to God. Thanks be to Thirst.