A reflection on John 4, The Samaritan Woman at the Well
By Rev. Kathleen Stone
There she was. At the well. An amazing unnamed woman.
There are some who have reclaimed this unnamed “Samaritan woman” as a powerful woman –Jesus’ conversation with her is the longest conversation he had with anyone in scripture. Her answers are deeply intelligent answers, knowledgeable of scriptural texts of the day. She was a leader proved by the fact that she left that well that day and told people in the village who she had found and they “believed in him because of her testimony”.
Then, how on earth, did she become, in tradition, a “loose woman”? Even if she married five men, she couldn’t have done so legally if it were not licit. In fact, why did tradition miss the fact that there’s nothing loose about her at all . . .she had five “husbands” but the one she has now is not her “husband”. What does that mean? It seems there could be a lot of interpretations. But, alas. Tradition jumped to “loose woman”.
Oh, there’s the noontime gathering of water . . . “What woman would be gathering water at noontime?” the biblical traditionalists say . . “only a woman who did not want to be conversing with other women, who felt rejected or who did not belong in the group of women.” Seems a big jump.
Perhaps people at home were thirsty and she volunteered to go for an extra trip.
Perhaps she had shared her water jug with a sick one and needed more.
Perhaps she had been so absorbed in her early morning prayer that she just didn’t get to the well in the morning . Perhaps her daughter was sick.
Perhaps she was uniquely intuitive and wise and aware and attentive to the tremors in the ground around Jesus and knew he was coming and wanted to meet him and have this incredible conversation with him?
Perhaps she knew that Jesus would be thirsty when he arrived at the well and wanted to be the one to draw the water for him?
Perhaps it was cool out that day and she changed her normal routines!
There are a billion “other” reasons for her presence at the well at that time of day. But, alas. Tradition jumped to “rejected, loose woman”
Women’s ways are so often misinterpreted. Around the world, women are placed in situations requiring of them creative solutions to their many responsibilities — the carrying of water, the carrying of children, the carrying of household duties, the carrying of relationships, the carrying of family, the spiritual substance of life . . yet they’re rarely given credit or the respect they deserve. Relegated to the free “care” economy, judged for how well they do that large but narrow task in the eyes of their husbands and cultures, their intuition and wisdom is disregarded in the economies of the day and they disproportionately suffer from lack of opportunity.
This year over 160 delegates from around the world are at the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women this week within the Ecumenical Women 2000+ team, fighting for the sake of women about how the world finances development aid for the sake of gender equality. Part of that gender equality would be naming the disparaging way tradition, religion, government, institutions, cultures have respected women’s intuitive understanding and action and allowing women to come forward with their uniquely powerful ways.
The possibility of meeting Jesus is a drive deep in our hearts. Responding to that yearning is not always according to the customs and traditions of the day. It is often deeply invested in the intuitive compass placed in our heart which points toward changing our path so that we can again receive or be told where to find “the living water”. In addition, the actual meeting with Jesus at that well of living water revolutionarily changes our identities, our priorities, our reasons for doing things even more. The institutions and traditions of the day become dry until reenergized with the presence of the living Christ who valued a woman at the well enough to talk with her, hear her out, respect her thoughts and give her the possibility to know what he was talking about.
PRAYER: Living water, come forth into our lives and hearts. Wherever dry and parched hearts, minds, bodies exist, give us courage to let the springs of living water deep in our hearts burst forth from us. If we are to go to the well at noontime or in the evening, let us not be afraid to do that which we need to do to infuse our communities, our traditions and institutions with that water which wells up into eternal life.