The Rev. Melanie L. McCarley
I picture the day as hot and dry--one of those dusty, summer days when just the thought of opening the front door to fetch the mail brings on a fit of malaise encouraging a person to do nothing but sit back down. These are the days when the business of simply walking takes a toll. I imagine that by noon the heat from the ground had worked its way through the soles of one’s sandals and woe be unto any wayward toe that overstepped its boundary for it would be burned by the hot earth. This is the kind of day I imagine it to have been.
Here is where we find Jesus, seated by the well of Jacob--who, the Bible tells us, was tired from his journey. He had sat down to rest. This is where we meet the Samaritan woman who comes to draw water from the well. And now we embark upon the longest discourse in all the gospels--the conversation between Jesus and the woman of Samaria. It was a long Gospel reading, wasn’t it. Don’t worry, I won’t repeat all of it.
Jesus says: “Give me a drink.” And the woman at the well replies “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” This begins a conversation about the nature of water--water from a well which can quench the needs of the body and living water which refreshes the soul. This meeting by the well is an event which bridges boundaries of faith (Samaritans and Jews did not get along) as well as gender (women and men would not have discoursed--even by a well.) Jesus and this women reach beyond societal boundaries to the heart of what it means to recognize and accept the Messiah as Lord.
As we listen to this woman, we see that she displays spiritual thirst, as well as candor about her many problems, and not leastwise, genuine insight about her real needs. In short, she has perspective on her situation.
Often, when reading this passage, we tend to get hung up on who this woman was--what her sins were, where she missed out. But a big point (perhaps the point) of this passage isn’t who this woman was (or wasn’t)--it’s her response to Jesus.
As she talks with Jesus we watch her drop the façade of who she had been--what she had done or hadn’t done--whatever failures had come her way. She leaves it all and goes back to her city to tell the people there about Jesus. The Gospel tells us that she “left her water jar and went.” She accepted the promise of the water that Jesus offered, and drank from that well instead.
I find myself pondering that water jar the woman leaves behind. Its symbolism lingers. Perhaps it is representative of all the chores and difficulties of that woman’s life. And it leads me to wonder, if perhaps we have water jars that we carry about, that we’d do right to consider leaving behind us as well.
Perhaps we can ask ourselves what it is that holds us back from living into the future that God holds out to us and sharing with others the Good News of God in our lives. What is in the jars that we would like to leave behind? Are there past tragedies, guilt, present challenges that we would like to exchange for the living water that Jesus offers?
There are all sorts of things we might like to set down and leave behind….disappointments, large and small, lingering hurts, deep-seated pain, difficult pasts, wounds that fester or fear about the future. Perhaps it’s an illness of the mind, body, or spirit. Maybe it’s grief, anxiety or sadness. It could be anything. Perhaps we can accept this story as an opportunity--an invitation, if you will, to set down the jar that is filled with whatever burden it is that you bear, and have done with it; and take hold of the promise of Jesus, that in exchange for leaving behind whatever encumbrances you are carrying you may drink deeply of the living water of God.
In the end, what’s remarkable about this woman isn’t her background, her troubles or even her situation. It’s her faith that is exceptional--her perception, upon meeting Jesus, to recognize who he was and that what he said was true.
As it is with many female figures in the Bible, this Woman of Samaria doesn’t have a name. However, Orthodox Christians have bestowed upon her a name, Photini, which means “the enlightened one”. She even has a feast day (February 26th) a title (Evangelist and Apostle) as well as a story. In this story, Photini is also present at the Pentecost event--the tale goes on to say that she brought along her family of five sisters and her two sons. And, just in case you’re wondering, they have names as well. And like the Apostles, Photini travels to the ends of the earth proclaiming the Good News--eventually to be martyred under the reign of Nero, but not before bringing many souls to God. It’s a wide ranging journey that began that hot afternoon when she left her jar at the well. Of course, we don’t really know what happened to the Woman at the Well…but this story, it seems to me, is a fine legend to imagine.
In the Gospel story for today, we go on to learn that as others heard this woman’s testimony and further encountered Jesus (he stayed there two days, John tells us) they too came to believe and recognize him for who he was, the Savior of the World. That’s the way the Gospel works, isn’t it. It begins with one person, encountering Jesus, and it continues with that message being brought to others, who in their own time, and in their own way, find that the promises of God are indeed life-giving waters that never fail.
The Woman at the Well, was the first evangelist. We may not know her name--but we, each one of us, are invited to walk in her sandals--leaving behind whatever it is that might be holding us back from a fulfilling relationship with God and taking with us the message of God’s love to share with others. It’s a process that began with the sharing of insight. It ends with the people of that village saying to the woman who brought them news of Jesus: “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 Savior of the world.” As it was for them, may it be for ourselves as well. In Jesus’ name. Amen.