So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.
When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
In light of the text from John 4, I want to make a few observations on Jesus’ encounter with a sexually and relationally broken woman. While there are a myriad of helpful observations to make from this passage, I’ll limit them to three.
First, this woman doesn’t appear broken. Often, people who are broken don’t appear so. Rather they can appear quite confident. Strictly speaking, the text does not say that she was divorced five times, or even once for that matter, although the unlikelihood of multiple husbands dying, along with the fact that she was with another man who was not her husband, suggest that this woman experienced sexual sin and great relational pain in her life. And yet, in her interactions with Jesus, she appears to be quite confident.
Secondly, Jesus approaches her by asking her for a favor. He does not come to her offering her something she isn’t asking for. And yet it is obvious that His objective isn’t solely (or even primarily) the water, for if it was, when she asked why a Jewish man would ask a Samaritan woman for water, he could have simply said “I am quite thirsty.” He was clearly interested in her eternal well-being, even as I suspect that, being wearied and sitting by the well, He was also quite thirsty. While the Son of man came not to be served, but to serve, there are times when it is a gracious thing to allow oneself to be served.
Thirdly, it is intriguing that Jesus seems to be both very concerned about her eternal welfare, while, at the same time, is very relaxed in His interactions with her. He does not have an evangelistic formula. In response to a question, He throws out an elusive comment about being the source of living water. He does not press her about her relational past, but He does not he make light of it either. He in no way talks down to her. Whether she would recognize sin in her past or not (and likely she did), she did know that much in her life was not working. No woman wants to have had five husbands. Unless she has been hurt or jaded, no woman wants to have multiple or serial relationships. She didn’t need a sermon, or even a comment, about what she had done wrong, or what had gone wrong. She knew. Jesus raised the issue with her, but He didn’t press it. When she immediately turned the conversation to worship, He was glad to go there with her. She knew her need. So did He.
A world in sexual sin expects a sermon from the church. (And there is a place for that.) Often the world expects an argument. What the world often doesn’t expect from Christians is to be engaged as people, rather than as projects. I have a hunch that people in sexual sin know it, particularly women. And many don’t need reminding. What they need is the same thing we need (since “we” were once “they”): an interested and listening ear from one who has partaken of the Living Water and who is willing to engage.
May Christ’s compassion on the Samaritan woman be our guide as we reach out to women and men hurting from abortion or struggling with sexual sin, both those in and outside of the Church. Convict us again of the sin that we have been saved from, so that we as the Church may be known for our love and compassion as we share the Good News of Your Salvation. In Christ’s Name we pray, Amen.
This week’s reflection has been written by Anglicans for Life’s Board Member, the Rev. Dr. W. Ross Blackburn. Rev. Blackburn is the Rector of Christ the King, an Anglican Fellowship in Boone, NC.