- Published: 31 March 2020
So for me, the story of the Samaritan woman, in its structure, lifts up this woman as a prophet, a prophet who links her washed hand with the washed hands of Jesus, and teaches us about the “living water” vision of Jesus.
The story goes like this. Jesus is journeying between places and goes through Samaria where he stops at a town called Sychar. Sychar is the place where Jacob’s well is, a well that nourished ancestors of many diverse peoples, including the ancestors of Jesus and of a Samaritan woman who also happened to be at the well.
We are told that Jesus stops at noon hour, in the heat of the day when everyone is supposed to be sitting under trees napping or having a siesta. Jesus wanting some alone space sent companions into the city to get food. He probably needed some think time, his own healthy practice of social distancing.
But something unexpected and unusual happens. A woman comes to the well at noon hour. One doesn’t usually do manual labour at the hottest time of the day, so this is unusual.
In the past, I have often seen the appearance of this woman at this time as evidence of her being a social outcast who sneaks out to the well in order to get water when no one else is there. Recently, I am not so sure, not so sure because of the Spirit-strength of this woman.
Her way of being suggests that she is not someone cowering to the pressures of others, but rather she is a woman who is asserting direction over her own life. I have a growing sense that this woman is at the well by choice, she is there knowing she can be alone, have some healthy social distance if you will.
We do learn later in the telling of the story, that this woman is a woman who has been married five times and that the man she is presently living with is not a husband. This again, has been used to identify this woman as a woman of ill-refute, as someone bad, when in fact, logic suggests otherwise. Probabilities are that the five husbands are the not so good ones and that this woman is strong and smart and good to not put up with bad husbands and that at this juncture in her life she is wise enough to live with someone before marrying them.
Everything in this story suggests this is a woman who is forging her own path, and mostly doing it against social conventions. She no doubt was the talk of the town for her choices.
Understanding this woman as one who is forging her own path influences how one hear the conversation between this woman and Jesus, a conversation that is all about breaking down social barriers, about destroying unhealthy social distances.
Jesus asks the woman for a drink of water. Instead of quietly and silently obeying and getting water, she speaks up, she challenges him for even asking her for a drink given the distance between their social standing in life. He a man, she a woman. He a Jew, she a Samaritan.
Her spirited way immediately creates a context where the conversation moves beyond a physical drink to a theological discussion about which mountain to honour God and what is meant by “living water”. It is all wondrously opaque but in the structure of the story, this woman is clearly smart and good and aware. The structure of the story is all about breaking down social barriers, about reducing unhealthy social distance.
Folks, we are called to a time where we all face the demand to seek out healthy social distance, just as this Samaritan woman and Jesus were. In seeking social distance, they became catalysts for breaking down social barriers, for destroying unhealthy social distances.
The COVID-19 pandemic is already revealing the impacts of social barriers and forcing discussions on who gets looked after when work dries up and who doesn’t and the list of social injustices, locally and globally, goes on and on. I am glad our government is recognizing that and planning on doing something about it.
So, in the Lent of 2020, when we are unexpectedly being forced to “let go” of a lot of stuff…not chosen but a given reality because of the necessity for social distancing, may we find the strength to allow this time, where there is pain, to also be a time of possibility, a time for spiritual nurture through the embrace of unusual behaviours like going to wells at noon hour, even as we are being offered a time, an occasion to yet again “let go” of the injustices that happen with social barriers, by becoming nearer to one another in heart, and not just those we know but those we don’t know.
In this story, the Samaritan woman and Jesus discovered they were kindred spirits despite the social distances between them. Both of them are ones who had gone against social norms in order to follow the sacred ways in spirit and in truth.
At the end of the story, this Samaritan woman returns to the village to invite people to come and meet Jesus because she heard in his words and deeds one who knew all about her, knew the independent and spirited pathway she had forged in life. It was a time of coming together, a time of breaking down social barrier which began as she and Jesus both sought some healthy social distance.
The story of the Samaritan woman at the well is one where the Spirit of the Christ freed her to be the prophet she always was….and in this time of trouble and stress and pain and challenge of Covid-19, let us take the time to find our own spirit strength and our own prophetic voices. Let us too, drink of living waters.