The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” (John 4:1-42)
The Samaritan woman presumes that when Jesus speaks of water, He is speaking of the same water of which she has come to draw from the well. She is physically thirsty, and has come to draw water. This stranger at the well claims He can draw living water and give her a drink. It may not be much to say the woman likely thought “What the heck is this guy talking about?” This stranger has no bucket, and the well is far too deep for him to simply bend over and scoop up a handful of water. Yet Jesus is speaking at a deeper, metaphorical level, of a different kind of well and a different kind of water. The woman’s confusion is natural, and to be expected. If a stranger were to approach us speaking in a metaphorical and cryptic language about deep spiritual matters, we would naturally be suspicious, confused, possibly a bit defensive. Jesus is a total stranger, speaking in an atypical metaphoric language about much different matters than what the woman was likely accustomed to hearing or speaking about.
Sometimes our approach to those of different faiths or religious traditions can be similar to that of the Samaritan woman. Our own customs, language, cultural idioms and historical and philosophical reference points shape the way we hear, understand, and communicate. We bring all kinds of baggage, both consciously and subconsciously, to any conversation about religion. God, Jesus, Scripture, grace, justification, salvation, sin: all words with profound and different meanings based on our own background, upbringing, study, and personal experiences. If we don’t take the necessary time to listen, to reflect, to ingest what another person says, we may actually miss his or her point entirely. “You have no bucket,” we are inclined to say, when our family member, friend, or acquaintance may not be talking about the same thing as us. “The well is deep,” we tell the person, not realizing what he or she is really saying. When we hear certain words or phrases, our own subjective experience and understanding may prevent us from realizing the person may mean something very different from what we presumed. We might even find that we have to take the time to appreciate what words, phrases, ideas, might mean to another person, in another paradigm, that contrasts and conflicts with our own.
Jesus indeed had no bucket, and the well was too deep for him to draw the water the woman needed to quench her thirst. But He was speaking about an entirely different reality – a spiritual reality with its own language, its own meaning, its own truth. He indeed could give her water, but a water not of this world, but of God Himself. The Samaritan woman, in a moment of profound grace, started to get it. “Whatever water you are talking about, if it means never being thirsty again, I want it,” we can imagine her thinking. Her humility, her desperate need for truth and God, enabled her to begin to see what had been so obscured by her own cultural upbringing. If we want to participate in such life-changing, thirst-quenching interactions, we will need exactly that kind of humility and openness exemplified in the Samaritan woman at the well.
God, spring of the living water, awaken us to the truth that the gifts of the other are an expression of your unfathomable mystery. Make us sit at the well together to drink from your water which gathers us in unity and peace. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.