A woman

I’m still thinking about that woman at the well. I feel bad we don’t know her name. Because it’d be a lot easier to gossip about how bad her past was if we knew her name. We could join in with all the other supposed moral standouts of the city in besmirching her reputation, all so that we could be besmirched along with her. But then I think, maybe her name just was not the point of the story. Just like a lot of the things that are emphasized every time we hear this story.

Why was she at the well at the sixth hour? When was, exactly, the sixth hour anyhow? We should get out books and ask experts to help us with that. Then, what was the cultural situation when women usually went to get water at the well? A whole sociological discussion could be developed that helps us to better understand the context in which this woman was at the well.

But this leads us to ask about how the Samaritans and Jews interacted (answer: poorly), and then what’s up with this question about the Samaritans worshiping on “this” mountain while the Jews worshiped in Jerusalem. There’s lots of questions in this text needing answers in order to most fully get at the root of it all!

Only, there’s not really. The point of this narrative can get so easily lost in the midst of a clamor to understand it more fully. And other important aspects can also get lost in the midst of trying to wrestle with issues the passage doesn’t seem to worry about.

I think we’re a lot like this Samaritan woman at the well, not that we all have terrible pasts which have left us outsiders, but that we like to bring up questions that help us miss the point of what Jesus was doing.

Jesus answers the woman’s questions by basically not answering the woman’s questions. I don’t think he is particularly interested in answering a lot of our questions either. Which is irritating. Indeed, I think a big part of how churches have been set up throughout history, and how theology has developed, has been basically about avoiding being confronted by the fact most of us are really annoyed by Jesus and his lack of answering our questions clearly. God has annoyed his people for generations upon generations, and we all don’t want admit we’re annoyed but instead make ourselves a golden calf that can become a much more agreeable to our sensibilities about what a God should be and how we should interact with it.

I think the point of the passage is pretty clear, though. Jesus is dodging the questions we want answered, going to the heart of the matter by saying how he knows who the woman really is, and then saying that living water isn’t about the religious arguments people like to set up, but about worshiping God in Spirit and truth. That’s a bit of a tricky phrase, to be sure, which is why the lady asked, “Well, the Messiah is coming, and he’ll answer my question.” Only Jesus replied, “I’m he.” “Then why don’t you answer my question?!” the woman probably thought.

Jesus kept the subject where it needed to be. The woman wasn’t allowed to distract herself and then was left with what Jesus did in fact say. She put down her jar and told her whole village.

Wait a second. Now this is an interesting bit. She went and told those in her town about Jesus.

The scandal here isn’t that she’s a scandalous woman. The real scandal is that she’s a woman. That’s what the disciples were surprised about. Jesus was talking to her. What is surprising to so many, so surprising they won’t bring it up, is that this woman becomes one of the very earliest Christian preachers.

Good thing she didn’t wait to ask questions later on and good thing she didn’t keep quiet. Jesus interacted with her, and she was given the privilege of being one of the very earliest evangelists.

This made me curious to see who came before her in the Gospel of John. We have John the Baptist, who started his career as a prenatal Pentecostal, leaping in the presence of Christ. The disciples are mentioned, but they’re only followers by chapter four. In Chapter two, we have Mary telling the master of the feast to do whatever Jesus asks. Well, that’s kind of like evangelism. So, John and Mary, then comes the nameless woman at the well. Of the three preachers so far in the Gospel of John, two are women and one is a man. This woman at the well, in fact, isn’t just a preacher but a revivalist, leading a whole town to Jesus. Interesting.

That’s not the point of the story either, but it is something I haven’t heard discussed.

I also noticed that not once in this story of the woman at the well did Jesus mention hell.

Jesus avoided the topic of hell in a key moment of evangelizing and then he ordained a woman to be a preacher. That sort of stuff would get you kicked out of a lot of churches these days.

Farewell, Jesus, they might even say to him. It seems Jesus just wasn’t a very good Christian. He just wouldn’t answer questions plainly and he just didn’t have a lot of patience for the golden calves that everyone insisted were the very identity of God, which here and in our era are the seemingly key questions that define a person as being in or out, good or bad, on the same or on a different team.

Being God, though, I guess he probably knew what he was up to.

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