Order of Worship for this reflection can be found here: Bulletin-03-12-2023 L3 YA
Scripture: John 4:5-42
Let us pray:
Living Water; fill our thirsty souls. In the divine silence of our souls, help us, O Spirit Wisdom, to discern the calling of our Lord’s voice, that, with you, we may follow and do God’s will. Amen.
The story of the woman at the well, found nowhere else in the Scriptures, is a compelling story on several levels. Last week during Godly Play I mentioned six sacred stories during Lent. This year, four of them are from the Gospel of John; the disciple in Celtic Memory that lay against Jesus at the last supper and realized he was hearing the very heartbeat of God. With that in mind, I find it easier to understand why in today’s passage alone, there are layers upon layers of thematic meanings:
“Water, living water, thirst, well of life. Food, the kind needed to make it through the day, and the food Jesus has that the disciples don’t know about. The relationship [history] between Jerusalem Jews and Jews from Samaria. The boundaries between men and women [of that time] and the many boundaries Jesus disregards. Jesus’ identity as the Messiah … who recognizes him, and who doesn’t. The disciples’ obtuseness and the woman’s perception. The role of experience and testimony in conversion and belief. Worship, where it happens and who is involved in it.”
While there is no specific mention of “Jacob’s Well” by name in the Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament, we do have one possible passage to go by: Gen. 35:1 reads:
“God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Beth’El, and settle there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.”
Jacob does what God requests, and settles in this region of Bethel, which later becomes Samaria. Here, many generations later, Jesus sits and asks a distant estranged relative for water, beginning one of the richest New Testament stories recorded. Here are a few salient points:
- The woman knows she and her community are descendants of Jacob.
- When Jesus and the woman have their conversation, Samaria is ostracized by the rest of Israel, even though they have a common ancestor in Abraham. Meaning, this becomes a ministry of reconciliation “within the family.” Even more so when we realize that the woman (“…our ancestor, Jacob who gave us this well…” 4:12) and Jesus are both descended from Jacob although through different offspring (See Matthew for the genealogy of Jesus), which makes them very distant cousins.
- There is evidence in the story that the woman has a deep awareness of the true message of Christ, even from their one brief conversation.
- She knows the current religious issues brought up by their conversation regarding priestly-political odds between Samaria and Israel with regards to worship, truth, and common hope in the Messiah.
- At the time of this story, it has been postulated that cultural expectations meant women went to the well in the early morning or in the evening, so we could interpret she has felt alienation from her own community, else why come to the well in the middle of the day by herself?
- She is so changed by the conversation with Jesus that she leaves her water jar by the well (4:28) to go and spread the news: “Come see a man who told me everything I ever did, He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” (4:29) If that is not in and of itself evidence that she no longer “thirsts” but has drunk deeply from the Spring of Living Water, than what is?
- Changed from her brokenness and alienation, she becomes the first evangelist for Christ, bringing her whole community to Jesus at the well and leading them to find belief… “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” (4:42)
- This message of reconciliation between the woman and her community is a metaphor for Samaria and the rest of Israel, yet it is also a foretaste of the entire message of Christ to the world: “if you knew who it was that asked you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”(4:10)
- The first time Jesus ever freely admits that he is the Messiah takes place here, in the broken and ostracized region of Israel called Samaria, as he declares openly who he is using the name God gave Moses at the burning bush: “I am he, the one you are speaking to.” (4:26)
These points are just dipping the surface of the rich cool waters of the pool in this story. Do you wish to drink of the Water of Life? Let this story be an invitation to dip with your cup below the surface and drink deeply.
What would that look like for you? Within what dryness do you find yourself living now? Personally? Corporately? Changing one’s life to make room for life-giving water may cause some rocking of the boat, but wouldn’t that be preferred to an endless pattern of repeatedly coming to the well in the scorching heat of day on your own?
Come, Lord Jesus! We are a divided and hurting world, in your mercy, forgive us our divisions; and, by drinking deeply of your Living Water, let us work for peace and be made one in you. May we find in our desert of transition a deep wellspring, filling us up with the water of life. And, may we learn to pour it out in service, that others may, too be filled. In so doing, let all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.
 Duffield, Jill. “Reflection on the Lectionary” weekly post from Presbyterian Outlook