She always comes to the well in the middle of the day. It’s the hottest time, of course, with the sun bearing down on all things great and small. But she’s not the most popular woman in town, to say the least. She used to come in the morning, when the sun hovers over the horizon and the night’s coolness still lingers. But that’s when everyone else comes, too, and that never goes well for her. They never speak to her, only about her, though occasionally they speak AT her.
“There’s that woman again.”
“Wonder who she was with last night.”
“I can’t believe she has the nerve to come to this well.”
She is shunned in no uncertain terms. The looks they once hurled at her from across the town square made it clear she would likely not find any friends there. So has she stopped trying.
Now she comes in the middle of the day because it feels less lonely when there’s nobody around. And the silence isn’t so loud.
It’s true she hasn’t lived the most chaste life. But sometimes you make a mistake, and you know it’s a mistake, but it leads to another mistake, and then you just don’t know how to climb out of that pit, you know? And nobody seemed willing to help her then — or even to talk to her — so she just gave up.
She’d always wanted what everybody else has: a husband who sticks around and cares for their children. But her life didn’t go the way she had pictured; it just went off the rails. And because of that, now nobody wants to be around her long enough to hear her story and help her write a new one.
She doesn’t think much of it anymore. She just does what she needs to do and lets bygones be bygones.
It’s noon. She arrives at the well with her buckets to get water for the rest of the day. But there’s a man sitting there. A Jewish man. Which is weird, because this is Samaria, and Jews and Samaritans don’t mix. Jewish people think Samaritans are, well, let’s just say they don’t like Samaritans. And Samaritans don’t really like Jews because the Jews think they’re better than the Samaritans. It’s just a big recipe for disaster.
She walks quietly around Him with her head down, making sure not to look at Him. She’s a Samaritan woman, and He’s a Jewish man. Any kind of social interaction would be the faux pas of the century. Add that on top of her already — shall we say — tarnished lifestyle, she’ll never get another friend for as long as she lives. Not in Samaria or Jerusalem or anywhere. She’ll have to hightail it to Egypt if she wants to start a whole new life. That wouldn’t be all bad, she thinks.
But then, He says something to her.
“Give Me a drink.”
It sounds like a command, and it is. But there’s something in His voice that she hasn’t heard in — well, she can’t remember how long. Kindness? Is that what that is?
He must not realize she’s a Samaritan. Maybe He has bad eyesight, she thinks. But she doesn’t want to insult Him for not seeing who she is. So she asks as unassumingly as she can why He’s even talking to her.
“How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?”
“If you knew the gift of God, and Who is saying to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would ask Him, and He would give you living water,” He says.
The kindness is still in His voice, confounding to her as it is. And what’s He talking about — this living water? That’s not a thing, she thinks. She’s pretty sure that’s not a thing.
“Sir,” she says, with all due respect, “You don’t even have a bucket, and the well is deep. So where do you get this living water? You aren’t greater than our father Jacob, are You? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and livestock.”
Oh, no, she thinks. She’s insulted Him, exactly what she was trying not to do. It’s going to take a bit to dig herself out from this one. And she knows she’s not good at digging out. She’s really good at digging deeper, but digging out has always been elusive.
He’s smart, and though He offers no defense for why He has no bucket, He keeps talking about this living water, which she’s still pretty sure isn’t a thing.
“Everyone who drinks from this water will get thirsty again,” He says, pointing to the well. “But whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again — ever! In fact, the water I give will become a well of water springing up within him for eternal life!”
She’s catching that this is some kind of metaphor, but she can’t figure it out. But if He’s really talking about not having to get water from here anymore, she wants to find out more. Fewer trips to the well mean fewer awkward glances and fewer rude words.
“Sir, give me this water so I won’t get thirsty and come here to draw water.”
It comes out snarkier than she means it to. There she goes, digging again. He opens His mouth to speak again, and she’s eager to hear more about this living water.
“Go, call your husband and come back here,” He says.
Well, that’s not what she thought He was going to say. But she’s not going there. Not now, not with this guy talking about magic water.
“I don’t have a husband,” she says. He doesn’t need to know who she was with last night. Or last year. Or the year before that.
“You have correctly said, ‘I don’t have a husband,’ He answers. “For you’ve had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”
The truth in His words runs through her bones and straight to her heart. He KNOWS, she thinks. He must be a prophet. Great, she silently groans. Nope, she’s not going there. But something about Him makes her want to keep talking to Him, just not about her past. She changes the subject. A good, old where-to-worship debate always works as a diversion. And if this guy’s a prophet, maybe He can sort it out.
“Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, yet you Jews say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.”
“Believe Me, woman,” He says with a kindness she’s never heard associated with that word, woman, before. “Someday soon, we’ll all be worshiping differently. Not in a temple or on a mountain, but in spirit and in truth. God is both spirit and truth, so that’s how we must worship Him.
She’s not exactly sure what He means, but now she knows there’s more to this guy than mystical water. She knows the Jews talk about a Messiah coming — anointed one, they call him — who will definitely straighten everything out. She’ll throw that out there, to let Him know she knows about Jewish teaching.
“I know the Messiah is coming. And when He comes, He will explain everything to us.”
“I am He,” He answers. “The One speaking to you.”
Her eyes grow wide with fear, with excitement, with realizing this man knows everything about her. Yet something inside her says He loves her anyway, and He loves her deeply.
Has she really been speaking with the Messiah?
She leaves her jar at the well and runs into the city. She doesn’t care who sees her, and she doesn’t ask before she addresses anyone. She stumbles into a group of men — some she knows better than they’d like to admit — and says, between breaths, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could this be the Messiah?”
Somehow she knows this will not be the last time she’ll tell her story, including its most broken parts.
Because Jesus loves her, and that mends them all.