So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)
As we explore this week's gospel encounter with Jesus, let’s start with the who/when/wheres:
We have Jesus, alone. We have a Samaritan woman, her ethnicity stated to convey her status as a not-quite-Jew. Samaritans descended from the original northern kingdom of Israel which, for a time was united with Judea in the south. But when the leaders in Jerusalem decreed that all worship was to take place in the temple there and no longer in the many other sacred sites of Israel, a division began which eventually separated Jews from Samaritans. The familial enmity persisted and deepened into a profound suspicion in which Samaritans were considered heretics and lesser-than.
And what about the time of day? Those with a cultural memory of Westerns might anticipate a clash when we hear “noon” – and certainly we will see some verbal gun play in this encounter. But what might “noon” mean for the writer of John’s Gospel? The time when the sun is highest, the most light possible is in the day? A symbol of completeness, the mid-point of the sun’s journey across the sky?
Our location is a well, in a place steeped in the history of Israel, a place the patriarch Jacob gave to his best-beloved son, Joseph. Jacob, remember, was Abraham's grandson, whom God blessed after a night of wrestling. In that struggle, Jacob was given a new name: Israel, which became the name for the nation descended from Jacob twelve sons.
The well might ring other echoes for John’s listeners: in the story of the patriarchs of Israel, at least three matches are made at wells: Abraham’s servant, sent to find a wife for Isaac, meets Rebekah at a well; Jacob meets and falls in love with Rachel at a well; Moses meets his wife at a well. So, should we expect a love story? Jesus often encounters women in the gospels, sometimes with intimacy – emotional, and even physical in the case of the woman who anoints his feet. This won’t be an encounter of romantic love, but a profound connection will take place.
Today, in your imagination, you might approach that well like the woman in the story. Imagine the setting. See Jesus there. How might you feel about Jesus being in a place where you expected to be alone? What needs do you bring to this solitary place? What kind of conversation might you have? Let it unfold, and follow where it goes. Write down any conversation that transpires.
Place, time, personae – the setting is ripe for something to happen. Something always happens when we meet Jesus.