The midday sun shone down on her neck as she adjusted the weight of the jar and continued on her way. Her thoughts wandered as she tried to block out the scorching heat.
“It would be wonderful if I could go to the well when everyone else did. It’d be so much easier than trudging here at the hottest time … and all alone,” she thought sadly to herself.
Oh how she longed for conversation — friendship — with the other women. She allowed herself to imagine for a brief moment that it was evening and that at the end of her journey she would be greeted by friendly faces, welcoming women who would share with her the news in their lives and ask about her own. She imagined laughter and camaraderie as the women took turns recounting different parts of their day.
Her reverie was cut short as she approached the well. It wasn’t abandoned, as it usually was when she came for water. Instead, a man sat alone. She tried to quickly look down and avoid eye contact, but when he glanced up, his gaze caught hers and she couldn’t look away. It was as if he looked right through her.
The Samaritan woman is mentioned in John, chapter 4. Reading about how Jesus met this woman (who was alone and probably considered an outcast) moves me every time I read it.
A little research sets the stage for why this woman was alone. Most women traveled to retrieve water at the same time of day — morning or evening, when it’s coolest — but this woman came all by herself. When Jesus tells her to go get her husband and come back to the well, she attempts to use a clever half-truth to tell him she isn’t married. It’s during the course of her conversation with Jesus that we learn she’s been divorced five times and is currently living with a man who isn’t her husband. At this point, even in our modern-day culture of loose morals and disposable marriages, most would attach a label to her, without even knowing her whole story.
I can’t help but imagine her embarrassment at being called out, yet again, for her shortcomings and her faults — and by a Jew no less! A man with whom her people did not associate. I wonder if her combative tone and the way she redirected the conversation was a defense tactic to avoid speaking about that which has already caused her so much pain and brought her to this place of isolation. Even though she attempts to bait Jesus with tricky questions and direct His attention elsewhere, He never once speaks condescendingly or disparagingly to her.
I’m not sure if their entire conversation is recorded in the book of John. I’d like to think, based on something she says later to the people of her town, that Jesus spent time listening to her and speaking into her life. I’d love to imagine that as she faced the shame and guilt of being a broken, unclean woman with tears escaping her eyes and sliding down dust-covered cheeks, that Jesus gently lifted her chin, wiped away her tears, and told her of her great worth and value to the Father. Even as I wrote those words, my own eyes filled with tears. You see …I am the woman at the well.
I’m twice divorced, three times married. I’ve walked many paths alone, wearing the label of outcast and shouldering the judgment of my peers. I’ve baited and redirected and avoided many a conversation to avoid facing my past. I’ve wandered in the desert at the hottest time of day, with a deep need unmet, never expecting to encounter Jesus the way I did.
Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?”
It only took one meeting with Jesus to change this woman forever. An amazing point to note is in verse 29 of chapter 4 [above]. This woman was so excited to tell the people of her town — the very people who shunned her — about this man who had detailed every part of her life. The very thing she used to avoid and try to hide, she was now publicly proclaiming! She was so excited, in fact, that she left her water jar behind in her haste to go tell everyone about her encounter. But why?
I think this selection in scripture so beautifully captures the way Christ comes to us all. He meets us where we are, just as we are, and we leave the encounter rejuvenated and refocused. Because He fills us to overflowing, we find ourselves focusing on Him instead of the shame and guilt we’ve been carrying or the things we thought we needed to fill our deep well. Even when He’s pointing out hard truths to us, Jesus is kind and loving. He’s never condescending or disparaging, but instead, He gently turns our gaze from the sin of our past to the hope of our future in Him.
Have you met Jesus? Maybe your story is nothing like the Samaritan woman’s. It doesn’t matter. Whatever it is in your past or even in your present … Jesus is the living water that will fill you up and never leave you wanting. No longer must we travel lonely paths shouldering the burden of being an outcast. Jesus is waiting.