Jesus encounters a woman alone at the Jacob’s well in Samaria and asks her to give him a drink. That seemingly simple request becomes the avenue for a much deeper conversation – one that startles Jesus’s disciples when they return to find him in the midst of this chat.
The scandal is two-fold: not only is Jesus speaking with a woman in public, against the norms of the time, but also with a Samaritan—and one who comes to the well alone, at that. The disciples are aghast to see Jesus flout gender and sectarian boundaries.
The woman, whose name we are not given, is also wary of the boundaries being crossed. When Jesus says she ought to be asking him for a drink instead, she calls his bluff. “Sir, you have no bucket.” What reason does she have to give him the benefit of the doubt?
Consider how readily our minds give us excuses not to trust one another—across cultural differences, political points of view, life experiences.
And yet these two unlikely conversation partners find real depth at this well. Jesus shows his understanding of the unsettledness and loss that has been so much a part of this woman’s life—and it is to her that he confesses his identity as the Messiah. To the question of which religious group has gotten it right, Jesus speaks of the life-giving freedom we will find when we worship God in spirit and in truth, not in judging who’s in and who’s out. The things that we believed to divide us recede as we set our sights on the living God.
Although this is the year we focus on Matthew’s gospel in our Sunday lectionary, this long passage is one of several we’ll hear from John during Lent. The conversations between Jesus and Nicodemus and then Jesus and the woman at the well are among several stories from John’s gospel traditionally given to us in the season we associate with preparation for baptism, penitence and reconciliation as we are renewed in our faith and in relationship to one another.
As we prepare for the reconciling joy of Easter, what might this story ask of us in terms of the divides we construct and default to? Where do you experience resistance within yourself when it comes to listening to voices outside your usual circle? Jesus entrusted the gospel message to someone who was outside the realm of acceptability; if we look only where we’re used to looking, what might we miss about the way Jesus might be seen?
When you become aware of the guarded instinct rising up within, stay curious. Someone with no bucket may nevertheless share with you the living water you thirst for.