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Thanking the Woman at the Well

Who’s the thirsty one here?

by Unvirtuous Abbey

Gospel Reading: John 4: 5-42

For Sunday, Mar. 27, 2011: Year A – Lent 3

“I want to thank the woman at the well,” he said. He was a newcomer to the group of mostly older people who gathered each week to study and read the Bible. He was also a professor and, as he said to the group, a gay man.

Just Good Conversation

Something that attracts me to this story is that there is no “healing,” just good conversation. We’re so used to “sound bite” Jesus that it’s interesting to see the person behind the Messiah. It’s refreshing to think of Jesus sitting beside a 1,200 year old well that was made famous by someone else. This story is divinity and humanity holding hands, laughing back and forth, and even getting a bit testy when the comments hit too close to home; but it’s a conversation held in what becomes mutual respect.

Thomas Moore said, “Heaven is not some impossible, idealized world; it is ordinary life made brilliant by a philosophy of mutual respect.”

A Love Story

That is precisely the perceived problem here: mutual respect. It’s also what is at stake. Because for several reasons, including race, religion, and gender, what Jesus is doing is considered wrong by the people around him who loved him most.

Robert Alter, in The Art of Biblical Narrative talked about Hebrew “type-scenes” in which stock characters would act a certain way every time. In the Hebrew stories, it sometimes happens that when a man meets a woman at a well, they get married. So, if you didn’t know who Jesus was, to Hebrew ears, this was a possible outcome, and was a great way of telling a story.

 Because not only is this a story about divinity and humanity, it’s a story about love and, while not hate, about the people whom we aren’t supposed to love.

Gushing  Love

John’s story takes place in a Samaritan city called Sychar. More specifically, near a well called “Jacob’s Well.” It was and remains over 100 feet deep. It’s the kind of well into which water percolates and gathers. The water that Jesus brings, he says, “gushes up.”

What gushes up for me in this story is what a professor of mine once said.  He said that any time we label someone as “other”, for whatever reason be it social, political, racial, religious, sexual, we dehumanize them. That’s a slippery slope. With the label “other”, it becomes easier to call someone a name. It becomes easier to limit rights and create a second-class citizen. It becomes easier to do things that are so cruel and inhuman that we are left wondering how did this happen?

The greatest sin just might be complacency. What dictated the conversation between Jesus and the woman at the well was respect. And when that humanity was shown in a conversation about divinity, both left the experience fuller, having drunk deeply from the well of mutual respect.

In the end, the woman leaves her water jar behind. Perhaps it was an act of kindness towards her new friend, or perhaps it was because her thirst had been quenched.

The Hardest Question

I want to thank the woman at the well for reminding me that even when I know that things aren’t what they could be in my life, or in the world, God draws closer into a holy conversation.

What do you do when you’re thirsty, and you have no bucket, and the well is deep?


Unvirtuous Abbey appeared on the Twitter scene on August 6th, 2010. They are a slightly sarcastic, yet hopeful, group of monks. They try to elevate the conversation with humorous tweets about the Bible, God, and Jesus. They also pray about geeks, Guns and Roses, and Charlie Sheen. They have been interviewed by The Practical Catholic and the Virtual Abbey.  They consider themselves lucky to be among the guest bloggers of “The Hardest Question.”

Comments

  1. Jennifer says:

    What you’ve challenged me with is your passing comment which was:

    “Robert Alter, in The Art of Biblical Narrative talked about Hebrew “type-scenes” in which stock characters would act a certain way every time. In the Hebrew stories, it sometimes happens that when a man meets a woman at a well, they get married. So, if you didn’t know who Jesus was, to Hebrew ears, this was a possible outcome, and was a great way of telling a story.”

    This was my Aha! moment. Why have I never noticed this about the story? It does have some similarities to how Jacob met Rachel, even how Isaac was paired up with Rebekah (though it was actually a servant at the well who saw Rebekah).

    And the very fact that this woman at the well has husband/boyfriend issues as she is coming to the well is intriguing. I wonder, then, if we are meant to conclude that her once and for all “husband” is to be Jesus as he is the bridegroom to the “bride”, the church? Obviously he makes a connection for her since she leaves the jar, has she found what she needed all along in this newly found relationship with the Christ? Will she leave ‘the man whom [she has] now’ and seek the ‘Father in spirit and in truth’?

    I’ve preached on this passage several times but I’ve usually focused on the forgotten jug and the water ‘welling up to eternal life’ but this other finding the bride at the well has really taken a hold. Interesting.

  2. @Jennifer:

    Jacob’s Well as Match.com! Perfect!

  3. PennyPyro says:

    ” In the Hebrew stories, it sometimes happens that when a man meets a woman at a well, they get married. So, if you didn’t know who Jesus was, to Hebrew ears, this was a possible outcome, and was a great way of telling a story.”

    ah…didn’t think of it this way before. thanks!

  4. I have to agree with the previous responses – the scene set in Hebrew times – and all I can add is another, “Wow!” And “Thank You!”

    But what I read; what hit home for me, was your “hardest question” at the end. And I found the answer in the line right after the Hebrew well scene:

    “Because not only is this a story about divinity and humanity, it’s a story about love and, while not hate, about the people whom we aren’t supposed to love.”

    And there it is, you put in black and white what I found to be an answer to the question: “What do you do when you’re thirsty, and you have no bucket, and the well is deep?”

    Love….. Love as Jesus loved.

    Thank you for your take on this and may God continue to bless your ministry!

  5. @Penny and @Rusty:

    Robert Alter’s illustration does add a whole new dimension to the story, doesn’t it?

  6. @Unvirtuous Abbey: It certainly does!

  7. “God draws closer”

    I do believe that will be my focus tomorrow. Many thanks for the insight!

    I’m also talking a bit about water. I couldn’t escape it this week: this reading, the Exodus reading, World Water Day, anniversary of the Exxon Valdez… it was “water, water, everywhere…”

    I think I resonate so much with “God draws closer” because that seems to be the answer to my hardest question (which is pretty much the same as yours): have we anything real to say to the 900 million people on the planet that don’t even have access to safe water? ‘God loves you’ sounds rather nonsensical, no?

    But, “God draws close to you and calls me to do the same”…seems like there might be traction there.

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