On the long dusty path that led out to the village well, this woman of Samaria slowly made her meandering way. The day was hot, the sun high. It was not the normal time of the day when women did the heavy work of fetching water, but she preferred it. She was alone with her thoughts, and away from the comments and accusing glances of the other village women.
She wiped her brow as she stopped to watch the heat dance off the rocks along the path. Too bad it was such a long way to the well, she thought. There was a dullness that had settled on her spirits in the previous few years, an aching dullness that made even the simplest of daily tasks a burden. The boredom became its own particularly excruciating suffering that silenced any interest in the life she had…or she had left. The life she had dreamed of for herself so long ago–it seemed–had never materialized. Love, motherhood, babies, joy, a family…. No, it’s better not to remember. Just keep going.
As she approached the well, she barely took notice of the man who was sitting there, also alone. She dropped her bucket and then moved to the other side of the well to pull it out. I’ll be out of here in just a minute, she said to herself, as if silently addressing the unusual visitor of the well. Heaving the jar up she placed it atop her head, ready to make the trek back to the village.
“Give me a drink.” The woman took a few steps and stopped. Was he speaking to me, she asked herself. “Please give me a drink.” The voice gently nudged her out of her safe cocoon of self-interest. She turned and looked at him for the first time. He was definitely a Jew. What was he doing here in Samaria she wondered.
“You’re asking me for a drink? A woman? And a Samaritan on top of it?”
There was something about his eyes. “If you knew who I was and the gift I have for you, you would have asked me for a drink. I would have given you living water.”
“How could I have asked you to provide me with a drink of water. You don’t have a bucket here. This well is deep. Unless, of course, you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob who gave us this well.”
The man turned to look inside the well. Slowly he told her, “This water is just like any other water you know. You drink it and you are thirsty again. I have other water I’m offering you. Those who drink it will be thirsty again. The water will become as a fountain of living water welling up within them.”
Living water, she thought. I wonder what that would be. If it means I don’t have to walk out here every day I’ll take it. “Sir, give me this water so I’ll never thirst again, and I won’t have to come here to fetch water every day.”
The man looked at her gently. He leaned forward, as if ready to give her this “magically wonderful” gift. Instead, she heard the words she most dreaded to hear: “Go call your husband and come back.” It was as though a door banged shut within her spirit. No! Who was this man? What did he know about me to ask that? Was he just another tongue-wagging bully like everyone else making fun of her? As her mind reeled she heard herself answer: “I have no husband.” Why did I answer him, she could have kicked herself.
“You are correct in saying this. In fact, you have had five husbands, and the one you are with now is not your husband.”
The words were gentle. There was no shaming, no laughing, no scandal. Just a simple statement of what was her truth. As his respect for her pierced the dull scaffolding she had built up around her shaky insecurity, she felt it collapse. In one great heaving sigh of relief it fell at her feet…and his. The sword of her truthfulness had cut through the deadly lethargy of buried lies she had been telling herself, and now she stood before this man whose name she did not even know in the naked intimacy of his seeing and knowing her. At last. As her tears fell, the waters within began to bubble up and trickle into her inner desert. How her spirit craved this water!