Exodus 17:1-7 • Psalm 95 • Romans 5:1-11 • John 4:5-42
When it comes to affairs of the heart and adherence to ‘accepted moral codes’, it’s very easy to see that throughout history women have been judged far more harshly than men by those around them. Sometimes when a man has moved on from relationship to relationship he is considered a ‘jack-the-lad’ or a bit of a cheeky rogue, but if a woman acts in the same way – well – we can be all too ready to label her a harlot, a jezebel or even worse!
Thankfully, attitudes seem to be changing, but there are times when judgement and condemnation still rear their ugly heads.
Sometimes there are people who seem to relish in the gossip about the breakdown of someone’s relationship.
“Well, what can you expect?”
“You know she’s been married before!”
“She put herself about a bit before she was wed you know!”
You can just hear the voices, can’t you!
And don’t we especially love it when it’s involves someone rich and famous!
Joan Collins – married five times, Elizabeth Taylor – married eight times (though twice to the same man of course), Zsa Zsa Gabor – married nine times!
Shocking we say, but what can you expect of women with their track record! Oh how we love to be able to judge and condemn the lives of others.
In our gospel today Jesus meets another woman.
She has a history. Things done and left undone, some good some not so good. Guilt and regrets. Fears. Wounds and sorrows. Secrets too. She is a woman with a past.
If you study the history of this passage, if you read the commentaries and listen to the interpretations, you will learn that her past is generally seen as one of promiscuity. The evidence base for this being that we are told she had five husbands and is now living unmarried with a sixth man. What a scandalous woman!
But how easily we forget that women of her day had very little choice or control over their own lives. If she is divorced it is because the men divorced her. She had no right of divorce. That was exclusively the man’s right. Of course, maybe it wasn’t divorce. If she’s not divorced then she has suffered the death of five husbands. Five times she has been left alone, five times nameless, faceless and of no value – five times having to start over again. Maybe some divorced her. Maybe some died. We don’t know. Either one, divorce or death, is a tragedy for her life.
So, let’s not be too quick to judge. We don’t know the details of her past. Maybe we don’t need to. Maybe it is enough that she mirrors for us our own lives. We too are people with a past, people with a history. We are all in some sense the Samaritan woman.
People like her, people like us, people with a past, often live in fear of being found out. It is not just the fear that another will know the truth, the facts about us but that they will do so without ever really seeing us and without ever really knowing us.
We all thirst to be seen and to be known at a deep intimate level. We all want to pour our lives out to one who knows us, to let them drink from the depths of our very being. That is exactly what Jesus is asking of this woman with a past when he says, “Give me a drink.” It is the invitation to let herself be known. To be known is to be loved and to be loved is to be known.
To be found out, however, without being known leaves us dry and desolate. It leaves us to live a dehydrated life thirsting for something more, something different, but always returning to the same old wells.
We all go down to some well or another. For some, like the Samaritan woman, it is the well of marriage. For others it is the well of perfectionism. Some go to the well of hiding and isolation. Others will draw from the well of power and control. Too many will drink from the wells of addiction. Many live at the well of busyness and denial.
We could each name the wells from which we drink. Day after day, month after month, year after year we go to the same well to drink. We arrive hoping our thirst will be quenched. We leave as thirsty as when we arrived only to return the next day. For too long we have drunk from the well that never satisfies, the well that can never satisfy.
Husband after husband – this is the well to which the Samaritan woman has returned.
But of course, there is another well – the well of Jesus Christ. It is the well that washes us clean of our past. This is the well from which new life and new possibilities spring forth. It is the well that frees us from the patterns and habits that keep us living as thirsty people.
That is the well the Samaritan woman in today’s gospel has found. She intended to go to the same old well she had gone to for years, the well that her ancestors and their flocks drank from. Today is different. Jesus holds before her two realities of her life; the reality of what is and the reality of what might be. He brings her past to the light of the noon day. “You have had five husbands,” he says, “and the one you have now is not your husband.” It is not a statement of condemnation but simply a statement of what is. He tells her everything she has ever done. She has been found out.
But of course it doesn’t end there. Jesus is more interested in her future than her past. He wants to satisfy her thirst more than judge her history. Jesus knows her. He looks beyond her past and sees a woman dying of thirst; a woman thirsting to be loved, to be seen, to be accepted, to be included, to be forgiven, to be known. Her thirst will never be quenched by the external wells of life. Nor will ours. Jesus says so.
“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.” This is the living water of new life, new possibilities, and freedom from the past. This living water is Jesus’ own life. It became in the Samaritan woman “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” She discovered within herself the interior well and left her water jar behind. She had now become the well in which Christ’s life flows.
It’s not enough, however, to hear her story or even believe her testimony.
Until we come to the well of Christ’s life within us we will continue returning to the dry wells of our life. We will continue to live forever thirsty. We will continue to live in fear of being found out.
So I wonder, from what wells do you drink? How much longer will you carry your water jars? There is another well, one that promises life, one by which we are known and loved. Come to a new well. Come to the well of Christ’s life, Christ’s love, Christ’s presence that is already in you. Come to the well that is Christ himself and then drink deeply. Drink deeply until you become the one you have drunk.