JESUS AND THE SAMARITAN WOMAN
by Douglas L. Moschella Clark
based on John 4:1-42
Susan in San Pedro tells this story. When my older son was in kindergarten, he
had a wonderful Sunday School teacher named Miss Olivia who loved to tell Bible stories. A
southern lady with a classic southern accent, she had great dramatic flair and was a real
hit with the kids. One Sunday, I asked the customary what did you learn in Sunday
School today question, only to be told We heard about Jesus and the
whale. No, honey, I said, it was JONAH and the whale.
Nope, Mom -- Miss Olivia told us about JESUS and the whale. Seminary training
left me clueless, so I tried, Tell me the story, then. And he began,
Jesus was thirsty and he went to the 'whale' for some water ... and there he met
It is the first third of the first century of the common era. Jews and Samaritans
despise each other. Jews think Samaritans are heretics and half-breeds--even though Jews
and Samaritans both acknowledge the first five books of the Bible as sacred scripture.
Jewish documents contain numerous warnings to rabbis not to speak to women in public.
Marriage is held in honor--and those who have been through several failed marriages are
held in contempt. Finally, drawing water from the well is womens work, done by women
who come in groups to the well in the cool of the morning or the cool of the evening, not
in the heat of midday.
It is the first third of the first century of the common era. Jesus, a Jew from
Galilee, has been to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. Now he is on his way, on foot,
back to Galilee, taking the short route through Samaria. It is the heat of midday. Jesus
is wearied by his journey, and is thankful that he has come to Jacobs well at the
foot of Mount Gerizim. He knows that he is in hostile territory, but hes not
particularly worried that anyone else would show up at Jacobs well in the middle of
In the shimmering heat, Jesus observes a woman with a water jar walking slowly toward
the well. Noticing him at about the same time, she stops, hesitates. He is a stranger,
someone shes never seen before, not from around here. Her thirst overcomes her
hesitation, so she steps forward, hoping he wont speak to her, hoping she can just
draw water and return home.
Cautiously she approaches the well, gripping her water jar tightly. She tries not
to look at the stranger. But out of the corner of her eye, she notices his sweat, his
weariness, and the dust on his feet. And for the first time she also notices, with some
alarm, his Jewish prayer shawl. Trying to steady her hand, she reaches for the rope. A
bright flash of reflected sunlight stabs her eyes from the bottom of the well. She senses
the coolness of the well. It is getting very hot.
Could I trouble you for a drink of water?
The words are spoken softly. She almost misses hearing them...but not because of
their volume. He, a Jewish man, spoke to her, a Samaritan woman....
Perhaps it was the fear. Or maybe tiredness from bearing all the freight of her
life, compounded by this intrusion into her routine, about the only thing she could depend
on these days. Perhaps it was chiefly her increasing thirst. Maybe all of these; but for
whatever reason, she was suddenly exasperated. She just wanted some water, and to be left
alone. She was surprised by the force of her own reply. A drink of water?
But...but...youre a Jew, and youre asking a woman of Samaria for a
Well, actually, no, he says. I have living water for you. Not like
the water you draw from this well and drink when you are thirsty--for you will be just as
thirsty tomorrow. The water you can draw from me will become in you like a spring of water
welling up to eternal life, and you will never be thirsty again.
Sir, she replies, a mixture of curiosity and respect in her voice,
give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.
I will give you this water, he responds, for I know how thirsty you
are. I know how much pain you are in from your broken relationships and your status as an
outcast among the women of your village and your exclusion from the holy place on the
mountain. Come to me, and I will give you rest.
Sir, she replies, I perceive that you are a prophet. Can you settle
this longstanding dispute we Samaritans have with you Jews about the right place and the
right way to worship God?
It is not a matter of proper place or proper liturgy, Jesus answers.
It is a matter of spirit and truth. For God is Spirit, and those who worship God
must worship in spirit and in truth.
Just then Jesus disciples arrive. They are speechless with shock when they
discover that their Teacher is talking with a Samaritan woman. She senses their
disapprobation, leaves her water jar by the well, and goes back to her village to invite
her neighbors to meet this man who told her all that she ever did, who is a prophet and
who may be the Messiah. And they come with her, drawn to the well by the power of her
testimony, and they meet Jesus, and they learn in their own experience that he is the
Savior of the world.
What a stunning reversal at Jacobs well. Despised and rejected because she is a
Samaritan, a woman, a person with a history of failed marriages, an outcast woman drinks
deeply of Jesus living water and becomes the first successful Christian evangelist.
She thirsts no more. And because her testimony leads others to Jesus, they too thirst no
Here is another outcast womans testimony to the living water of her faith. She is
a contemporary of ours. Her name is Amanda Udis-Kessler, and I take her testimony from
Whosoever: An Online News Journal For Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Christians.
(This online journal takes its name from John 3:16: ...whosoever believeth in him
shall not perish, but have everlasting life.)
Amanda Udis-Kessler writes: Faith, at heart, offers me liberation -- liberation
from the bondage of my low self-esteem, shame, self-hatred, self-sabotaging behaviors and
other manifestations of my own personal demons.
Faith also, and no less importantly, offers me release from the bondage of
worshipping the gods of conventional wisdom, money and "success," and faith
sustains me in my attempts to live morally rather than self-centeredly.
While I would not (could not!) claim to be so liberated all the time, my faith
has made a tremendous difference in affording me the opportunity to move forward in the
face of my own doubt and other people's hostility or indifference. This is true both in
terms of my devalued statuses (such as my gender and bisexuality) and my privileged ones
(such as my being white and middle-class).
My faith has thus enabled me to enhance the amount of energy that I devote to
giving my best to the world. If God really loves me totally and completely, I might as
well stop hating myself, and if God accepts me as I am, I might as well do my best to
accept myself similarly.
Contemplating these insights, I find peace, joy, freedom and strength. Called to
help rather than driven to fear, I am free to go work and create and do my toiling in the
fields out of joy, gratitude, service to others and similar motives that follow from my
experience of God's love.
I don't need to produce frantically in order to prove that I deserve to exist on
the planet. I don't need to own "beautiful" things or be a "beautiful"
person. I just need to be myself, doing the best I can, but never failing to challenge
myself to give a little more back to the world.
Yes, Jesus does give us living water. Living water wells up like a refreshing spring
within us. Living water liberates us from the bondage of self-hatred or social exclusion.
Living water liberates long-dormant resources within us of peace, joy, compassion,
strength, gratitude: so that we are called to help rather than driven to fear.
Jesus gives us living water. An unnamed woman of Samaria, in spite of her hesitation
and misgivings, was drawn to Jacobs well to encounter Jesus, who gave her a drink of
living water. So we also, whatever our hesitations and misgivings, are drawn by story and
sacrament to encounter Jesus, wherever our own thirst needs quenching, that we too might
drink of living water and never thirst again. Thanks and praise be to God! Amen.