Today’s Lenten text comes from John 4:5-29 — Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well. This is yet another encounter in John’s gospel in which Jesus shows someone that he knows them, and knows them very well, and knows how to find them. But unlike Jesus’ other encounters, this woman has a very embarrassing and complicated backstory.
In T.S. Elliot’s “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” there is a line that goes like this, “Let us prepare a face to meet the faces that we meet.” Now this woman has a face to meet the faces that she meets (who doesn’t?). And now Jesus breaks through the face that meets the faces that we meet to find the broken face behind. He knows where to find us even when we are hiding.
First of all, the text says that she comes to draw water at the sixth hour; that would have been at noon. Let me just note that in a hot, arid climate such as Samaria, it makes very little sense to be drawing water at high noon in the heat of the day. Most of the women would come either in the morning or late afternoon. But this woman does not come with the other women from the village. And the reason why is she has been ostracized by the other women. They don’t want her with them. She draws during the heat of the day and she draws water alone. And Jesus meets this woman at Jacob’s well. And the first thing Jesus does is he initiates a conversation with her. What he does in this is that he gives her value. Isn’t it interesting that Jesus doesn’t come up to her and say, “I am the Son of God, I have come from heaven to earth to save you from your sins, are you interested?” After all, when we read who this woman is, there’s no doubt in our minds that she needs Jesus. And yet, surprisingly, it is Jesus who puts himself in need of her; “please give me a drink.” And she’s immediately taken off guard, “You are a Jew (and a Rabbi) and you are asking me for a drink?” Jesus begins to bridge the relationship between himself and this woman by placing himself in need of her. “I need a drink, would you give me a drink?” In placing himself in need of her, Jesus has done two things; first he has given her value and worth; she has something to offer. Secondly, Jesus’ need bridges the distance between them so that Jesus will have the opportunity to demonstrate that she needs him too.
Then an interesting conversation ensues in which Jesus moves from the mundane and material (water and thirst) to the spiritual. His conversation moves from H2O to “living water.” She doesn’t understand what Jesus is talking about. But what is important for us to see in this encounter is that Jesus has made an offer and a promise to this woman. Jesus says, “If you ask of me, I will give you living water.” And this woman does ask, “Sir, give me this water……but she doesn’t fully understand what it is she is asking for - for she thinks she will not have to draw water ever again.”
It seems rather odd, that as this woman says, “Give me this water,” Jesus now tells her, “Go, call your husband.” To which she responds “I have no husband.” Jesus says, “You’re right, you have no husband, because the truth is you’ve had five husbands and the man you’re now living with is not your husband.” And in that moment, Jesus tears off the face she is wearing to meet the faces she meets, and reveals the hurting, painful face beneath. This isn’t just a woman who has come out to draw water, this is a broken woman, a woman whose life has been a series of broken relationships, she’s used men and she’s been used by them; she is so thirsty. And Jesus breaks through to find her.
It’s been said that our greatest fear in life, is the fear of being found out, our fear of someone else discovering who we are. It is the fear that if you really knew me, what I think about, what I struggle with, you wouldn’t be my friend.
Tony Campolo once said to a group of people who had come to hear him speak, “If you knew who I really am, if you knew my thoughts and temptations, if you knew the real me, you wouldn’t have come to hear me speak. But if I knew who you really are, I wouldn’t come to speak to you.” Our greatest fear is the fear of being found out, and yet…….our greatest longing is to be truly found. Jesus found the woman behind the “face she puts on to meet the people she meets.” He found the real woman drawing water from Jacob’s well in the heat of the day and to her, he offers himself, the Living Water of Life. Like the Woman at the Well, may Jesus find you, the real you with your struggles and failings and complicated life ~ this Easter.
Please join us for a Lenten lunch around this wonderful story on Friday, March 21 at 11:30 a.m. at St. John’s Catholic Church in Montesano.
Steve Fischback is the pastor at Montesano Presbyterian Church.