If you are following my Book for Lent, welcome! I hope you find it helps.
If you’d like to begin at the very beginning, you could take a look at the chapter on Moses, and the burning bush – the first I Am. You can find a link to my post about that here.
It may seem a strange place to start, with this deep conversation that is not normally mentioned as one of the I AM sayings – and indeed, it isn’t one of the classic seven. However, it is a story which has intrigued me for years, and when I found that this is the place where Jesus first says “I am”, I wanted to explore it more fully. It is the longest recorded conversation Jesus has with one other person – and it is with someone who was on the other side of so many cultural barriers.
At a time when our politics is increasingly divided and divisive, where people box each other into categories, and make some lesser than others, this is a particularly relevant conversation.
John the Evangelist prepares us for this story very carefully, for it is profoundly counter-cultural. Jesus stops to rest near the plot of ground that Jacob gave his son Joseph. Jacob’s other name was Israel – one who wrestles with God. We are going back to Israel’s common spring, common source, at Jacob’s well. We are being reminded of a time long ago, before the time when and the Jews and Samaritans became peoples who saw themselves as separate. It is a place that holds meaning and memory for Jews and Samaritans – of their common father, and their common salvation story. John is placing us on common ground……
I think it is no coincidence that John begins this story by setting it against an atmosphere of potential conflict – between cousins, between related nations. We see Jesus acting out his mission to be a peacemaker, a reconciler. “For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us” Eph 2:14. Jesus himself is common ground, and his presence changes things. If we look carefully at how we are prepared for this encounter, we can see that we are being led away from conflict, towards reconciliation, to inclusion, and to hope…….
And so, as Jesus waits by the well in the heat of the day, a woman approaches. We can only imagine what it must have been like for her, in a culture where a woman could be divorced “for any and every reason” (Matt 19:3). We often think of her as one utterly disgraced in her community, having to visit the well at such a time. That may be so, but we must remember that at this time divorces were easy for a man to come by and early death not uncommon. Whatever her circumstances, she must have known more than her share of tragedy and disappointment. She may have known deep shame and disgrace. She may well have been a rejected member of a rejected community.
And yet she, like everyone else, gets thirsty and needs water to drink and water to wash with. She is as human as everyone else. So often, we do not see people like this. So often, we make quick judgements, build fences, wonder about people’s worthiness and, in our own pride and insecurity, seek to feel superior, chosen, righteous in some way. Not so Jesus.
His question bursts through all our categories and barriers in its gentleness, its humanity. It is a question that changes everything for this woman, and for her community.
“Will you give me a drink?”
Jesus humbly admits his own thirst, his own need. If we have heard the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matt 25:31-46), this question may have a deep resonance for us, for there Jesus says that whoever gives a thirsty person water, gives it to him. This story in John gives us a way of thinking about the needs before us. How would we respond – how do we respond – if a stranger asks us for a drink?
And from the Reflection and Response section.
Pour out a jug of water and set it before you, together with a glass.
Ask yourself what you thirst for. Allow honest answers to emerge and note them. Where does your life feel dry and unproductive? What would help?
“I was thirsty and you gave me a drink”
….If you buy drinks out, perhaps you could fast from one or two a week, and give the money to a charity instead………
You could carry extra bottles of water to give to the homeless or buy tea or coffee for those you encounter and drink with them. I have gift vouchers for coffee shops in my bag to pass on………
Think about this picture – look at the two trees, and the fence.
Where do you find connection in your life, and where separateness?
Are there ways you can reach across divides?
Pray for wisdom. Remember how Jesus slipped away from potential conflict with the religious leaders.
“For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us” Eph 2:14.
What comes to mind as you meditate on this verse? Does it speak into an particular situation for you?
If you’d like a copy of the book, you can ask your local bookshop, or order online.
Here are a few suggestions:
This blog post also draws on the Sunday Retold series.
Thank you for sharing this time with me.