I know this story of a woman that stood out to me this week, the nuances of the story giving it life in a new way.
This woman was poor. A widow maybe. Divorced perhaps. No friends to speak of. She lived with a man and gave him sex, so she wouldn’t become a beggar on the street. Other women didn’t want to associate with her- they had enough problems without explaining why they were befriending the town prostitute (though I hate that word and all of its connotations). And men… Did she even exist to them at all except as a plaything when she was trying to find love? An object to be used one day in a legal marriage and disposed of the next?
She followed a false religion. And lived in a part of the world where no one went. Seriously, if you knew about it, you would go out of your way to avoid those people. Think of the most run down, scary area you can… and this woman was the butt of it. These rejected people used this woman to feel a little bit better about themselves by shutting her out, so she was forced to go out in the middle of the day, the hottest, driest time when the sandy air parched your throat the worst. Any sane person would stay inside, not melt away in the sun just to get a little bit of water. But she had no choice for water was precious in the desert.
And yet, there is one Man that I know of who went to this town willingly, straight to the beating heart of that “horrible” place, rejected and spat upon by polite society. He sat at the town well, perched on the crumbling brick that needed to be replaced. He was tired and wearied, had been traveling for days with His friends… Walking and backpacking with a mission and goal. This time it involved water.
The woman, covered in brown fabric from head to toe that matched the crusty, desert setting around her noticed Him as she walked to the well with her clay jug and water bucket. But she knew her place in society and didn’t say a word as tied a rope to her bucket and then to the post above the well. She let the bucket drop then lifted it heavy and splashing with water. Up and down, up and down, it was a slow process to fill up the large, earthen jug at her feet with water. Sweat dripped down her back and legs. And her arms began to ache a little. The traveling Man watched her, but she continued to work ignoring His presence. Her mind wandered to the meal she would have to prepare when she got back home soon.
When the jug was almost full, the Man sitting on the well wall next to her spoke up. He seemed tired and asked her for a bit of water for Himself.
In the moment, she didn’t say “Yes” or “No” but shock and an ounce of fear crept over her. Men didn’t talk to women like her. Nobody talked to women like her. And this Man was a foreigner, traveling through… His clothes made him stand out. He was a Jew. Jews hated her people group. Her religion.
The shock over fear won as she considered His request for water and finally said to Him, “Why do you talk to me? Don’t you know who I am? What I am?”
“Dear woman,” He responded politely a faint smile bringing up His lips, “do you know who I am?”
“Well you don’t have anything to draw water with. Where is your water bottle? Or even a cup?” she noted His lack of belongings.
Then the conversation got real.
He smiled at her saying, “Let me tell you a little something. You drink water, you get thirsty again. That’s why you come here every day, in the heat of the day, for water. You can’t live without it. But,” He leaned in closer and she couldn’t help but to lean in herself to hear His whisper; it had been so long since anyone started a conversation with her and it felt good to talk to someone outside of the man she lived with.
As she leaned in He continued, “I have water for you that will keep you satisfied for life. You will never get thirsty again.” He smiled, as her face got bright.
“Where?” she looked around Him again, glancing from His pack to His smiling face. Was she missing something? Maybe He did have a water bottle hanging from His pack.
Suddenly she felt desperate, “I want this! Tell me where I can get this water!” Oh, how she was sick of coming to the well alone- men and women staring at her through their little windows, while she was forced to look on and pretend that their whispers didn’t sting. All the while in the cool morning, young mothers gathered together, talking and laughing, but her past made her an outcast to them. If only she never grew thirsty again, she wouldn’t have to come out in the middle of the day alone like this!
Instead of telling her where to get this magic water, the Man smiled at her fondly saying, “Better yet, why don’t you call your husband? We’ll get him over here as well.”
As if she couldn’t get hotter, she felt her face turn red and she turned away from the Man, busying herself with her water pot and rope. “I don’t have a husband,” she said softly.
The Man pressed her gently- He wanted her to know what He did about her life that her past didn’t matter. “You’re right. You don’t have a husband now. Though you were married 5 times, and now live with someone.”
Shock filled her and she whipped her head toward Him, all the while her thoughts raced. How does He know? Do I have “Abandoned” written across my forehead?
She stammered, “Are… are you… a prophet?” She paused a moment and locked eyes with Him then continued noting his attire once more, “You’re a Jew and you Jews think you know everything like where and how to worship. While we,” she waved her hand pointing to the town around her, “sit here, where our ancestors come from, and worship on this mountain. Why? Why do you insist on Jerusalem being the only holy place?”
She knew she was crossing lines with this Jewish Man, but He started the conversation. All she wanted was to draw water in peace and He prodded her about her personal life. So she took it personal with Him too.
He glanced toward the town she pointed to, her city on a hill where she got her religious beliefs from her ancestors. “Dear woman, you talk about worshiping on a mountain, or in a city, but you don’t even know Who you worship. We Jews do know Who we worship, however,” His voice grew soft again and she stopped fussing with the water pots to hear what came next, taking a step toward Him. She hesitated to sit with Him on the wall, until He motioned a hand next him and made room for her to sit too. It felt good to sit, hot and dry as the air was.
He continued, “There is a time coming when it doesn’t even matter where you worship. You see, even now, people will worship the Father in Spirit, with their hearts. Location?” He glanced in the direction of town again before turning His attention back to the woman beside Him who had grown quiet. “None of that matters now. The Father is looking for those who will worship in Spirit and Truth.”
The woman tried to be discreet as she took Him in, staring at His dirty feet, crossed languidly on the ground, resting on a stone that had crumbled from the wall of the well. His hair was a bit disheveled and dust clung to His clothing. He looked normal enough for a dirty traveler. But He spoke of things she had never heard before. In Spirit and Truth? What was He talking about? But she didn’t want this Jew to think she was ignorant of all things religious.
“Well I know the Messiah is coming,” she said to the Man, “And when He does, He will explain everything.” She stood up and moved toward her water pots, as she saw a group of men making their way to the well where the two were conversing. It was bad enough to be talking to a Man so closely in the middle of the day. Didn’t need an audience.
“Dear woman,” His voice was so gentle she couldn’t help but give Him one last glance before lifting the heavy, clay pot on her head to hurry home with.
“Yes?” Their eyes met again.
“I am the Messiah.” He said it steady and looked into her soul, light pouring from His eyes. The light cut deep and she felt a piercing open up a dark, empty well within that she didn’t know existed. She suddenly felt thirsty from a place within and longed for what this Man carried- a life within His Spirit.
In that moment her eyes opened to Whom it was she was talking and she burst into laughter with joy. She felt a quickening in her heart as years of shame lifted from her shoulders. The laughter continued and the jug on her head crashed to the ground, shattering at her feet. Water seeped into the thirsty earth, but the water suddenly meant nothing to her for suddenly she felt free and loved.
Without saying anything else to the Man, she turned and ran to the city, to the people who treated her so poorly. “Come! Come quick!” she called out to anyone who would listen. “I found Him! I found the Messiah!”
Knocking on any door she could reach she called people to her. “Come see! He’s here! The Messiah!” A crowd formed and she directed them through the city streets back to the well.
People who ignored, gossiped about, and spit on that woman for years observed a sudden confidence as she called out. There was a ringing in her voice and a joy in her demeanor. She was changed. And for that they believed her. It was a glorious moment and people who were hungry for life and thirsty for the Messiah that they heard the woman calling about, they came to see for themselves.
The Man stayed with the people for two days and spread more joy than any person old or young had ever felt in their souls before in that city. It was a forever moment that lives on only in the historical document we read today in the Bible. But live on it did, so that we know that woman would be the first ever to have the glory of the Messiah revealed to humankind as He started His ministry.
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When I think about this story, I am struck by the way that Man engaged people. He changed history and lived life. He met a nobody woman in a seedy town and after a brief, personal encounter, for the first time in her life, people listened to her because of Him.
He was SO counter cultural and the first feminist, if you will, bringing dignity to women who had no rights, breaking all kinds of social norms.
He had an effect on everyone who heard of Him, though not all liked Him or what He had to say.
He didn’t write out His opinions on silly blogs for people to like and read and comment on. He didn’t post pictures on Facebook, bragging about His new clothes, latest trip to a glamorous city or beach, or the fact that He ate a taco for lunch.
He didn’t take a political stance, demonizing the government or drawing lines between political parties, but instead told people to respect and give to the government what they asked for.
He sat with the sick and didn’t post about it. As a matter of fact, when people talked about Him and all the amazing, wonderful things He was doing and changing around Him, He asked people to stay quiet. He wanted His profile to stay low. He wanted to love without advertisement.
He spent time with His Father without posting about it on Instagram. And didn’t need to stay connected with 100s of friends on Snapchat throughout the day.
He fed and gave and loved.
He engaged people in real life encounters.
I am convicted to how I engage people in the real world vs. the online world that most people live. I know that if I engage in real life encounters and speak half as much life into someone today as He did with the Woman at the Well, then I’m on the right track.
I’m praying for a John 4 encounter today.