Big drops of salty sweat sting my eyes. I blink rapidly to relieve the burning sensation. I wish I could wipe them away, but my large water jar requires the use of both hands. Just a little further.
I squint my eyes and think the desert heat must be playing tricks with my eyes. I feel the hot sun beating down on me. I feel like my skin is going to burst into flames any moment from its unrelenting gaze. I long for just a moment of relief. At least my head scarf protects me from inhaling the gritty dust suspended in the air.
I look ahead of me again and the figure is still there. The heat must be getting to me. Who in their right mind would be out here at this time? Finally, I am within feet of the well. I can already taste the relief the water will bring my cracked lips and sandpaper tongue. At least until tomorrow….when I have to do this all over again. I am close enough now to make out the figure sitting on the edge of the well. I hesitate, wondering what I should do.
There is only one reason for a man to be at a well, especially this well. Jacob came to this well hoping to find a Godly wife, and Rachel was sent to him. They too, had met at high noon. Is this man looking for a wife? I rub my arm, which is covered with tender bruises. I picture him, my…not my husband, my…lover. I cringe at the word and wonder how I got here. I take a step towards the well and towards this mysterious man who seems so out of place. Maybe he is lost? Maybe he will be different than the others.
I begin to sashay confidently towards him, but hesitate once again when I get a good look at him. A Jew. I’m not that desperate. By this time he has seen me. I am a Samaritan woman, so I do what my people always do with Jews: I ignore Him. I place my jar within the rope harness and lower it into the well. My thoughts turn again to the man who brands me daily with these bruises, who marks me as his own. I am being pulled into the seductive darkness of the well, thinking how easy it would be to just disappear. No one would miss me.
I am jerked back to reality by a rough voice beside me. “Give me a drink.” Not a question, or even a polite request. A demand. My blood begins to boil. “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a Samaritan woman?” I look him defiantly in the eyes. I start when I see the way he is looking back at me. There is no contempt or judgment in his eyes. He is not backing down, but his look is not confrontational. It feels like the first time someone has really seen me. He holds my gaze. He doesn’t scan my body, assessing it. I pull my water jar up and pull a small cup out of the folds of my dress. I offer it to him timidly. He dips it into my water jar. Instead of bringing the cup to his mouth, he holds it out to me. I look at him, confused.
“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
I took that as permission to ask the question that had been on the tip of my tongue since spotting him from a distance.
“Who are you? Where do you get this water? You ask me for a drink, and yet you offer me living water?”
“Whoever drinks the water I offer will never thirst again.”
This is music to my ears. I don’t know what he means, but if it means never coming to this well again, I want this water. I will do anything for it. I come at noon, at the hottest part of the day, to avoid the stares and gossip of the other women. I choose the heat over ridicule. But if there is another choice…
“Sir, Give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.”
“Go, call your husband, and come here.”
I falter. The truth had to come out eventually. Why do I need a husband to get this water? All husbands had ever brought me were trouble. Something about this stranger demands truthfulness.
“I have no husband.” I hang my head in shame, looking away from his soul searching gaze.
“You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly.”
I look up at this stranger in surprise.
“How do you…are you a prophet?”
“Do you want this living water?”
“Yes,” with my whole heart.
He takes my cup and slowly pours the water over my head. This is a mikvah, a ritual purification, a new beginning. He has given me new life. I close my eyes as the cool water runs down my face. Then I remember who it is that will bring living water to my people. My eyes snap open with this revelation.
“You are the Messiah, the Christ.”
The Samaritan Woman is each one of us
The Samaritan Woman is an outcast, ostracized for her uncleanliness. And she is the one that Jesus wants to marry. She represents all of us, who try to satisfy ourselves with other husbands, with other lovers that leave us perpetually thirsty.
Jesus knows all of this and he is waiting at the well just for me, sitting in the hot sun, without food or drink. He has traveled out of his way to show me a different way of living. He asks me for a drink! He frees me from my shame. He knows all that I have done, all that I am, and wants to marry me. He wants to be seen with me, to declare to all the world, “this is my bride!” I no longer need to hide. I can run through this town that has cast me out and proclaim that I have been chosen, that the God of the universe chose me to be his bride. He knows all that I have done and loves me. He has chosen me, as unworthy as I am, and that means that no one is too far from His love. I have found the courage to call others to come see for themselves. “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” Through my testimony, through my witness, I help give birth to new believers, help free them from their masks of righteousness, from their slavery to cultural expectations.