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  • Writer's pictureDiana Wright

The Water is not in the Well

3rd Sunday in Lent, 2017 19 March 2017 I like singing and I love to listen to Mahalia Jackson. There is a Gospel song called The Woman at the Well and she does a stellar rendition of that song. I thought about just playing it and sitting down. Or better yet having everyone sing it!! But we are Episcopalians and I fear we would be so uncomfortable singing a Gospel tune we would lose the message in the delivery. Our way of listening to and understanding scripture is different, or so it would seem.

I wonder, though, if we know about the woman at the well. I was ruminating about the water she was drawing from the well. When I was a young child, not much more than a toddler, I drank water from the well my aunt and uncle had on their farm. They didn’t have to draw it up by hand, but the well was powered by wind. The water was so cold. I can still taste the iron, but there were no worries the water would be full of chemicals or bacteria or nitrates. Now my water comes from deep wells or maybe a river, but it all must be treated to take out the chemicals and the bacteria and you just hope it doesn’t have too much fertilizer run off in it. No, not the best water any more but I am thankful I have enough water to drink. You can live a while with no food, but not long without water.

Have you ever thought much about the fact it was Jesus who asked for water and the woman who gave it to him? And then he offers her water, the kind that will keep you from ever being thirsty again. Maybe it speaks to the very nature of what God intended for humanity all along: a relationship. When we share food or drink with someone we have made a relationship with them, and one that is at the very basis of existence. Here we have a very thirsty Messiah, one with no bucket, asking for water. He asks someone who would have been low on the feeding chain: a woman with no husband and, for a Jew, a person of an ethnic group that was usually avoided. This gives me a lot of pause given how one group in this world often acts towards another group. Nope, don’t think Jesus would have done things the way they are often done by groups or states or nations. So much for exclusivism and so much for white supremacy and the superiority of European civilization and the English language.

If we are being told we cannot be exclusive, what are we to do? We are, in fact, to build communities with one another and to which most of our beliefs about who is in and who is out must be cast aside. The woman at the well had been rejected. It is possible all five of her husbands had died, we don’t know. Maybe she was unable to have children and so become undesirable as a wife. We don’t know. There is much NOT said about her past.

So, Jesus invites her in to be part of the community. He knows her life has not been easy and maybe she has done things she shouldn’t have, but it was she who gave him something to drink and she who realized he did have water that would keep her from being thirsty again. She did a lot better than Nicodemus, who started out with more understanding than the woman, but ended up with less. She quickly realizes Jesus is the Messiah and I think Jesus has an “ah hah” moment as well. Maybe it was after meeting the woman at the well he realized that his messiahship was bigger than he had thought. He starts to realized that, although he says salvation comes through the Jews, he is to create a community that is much broader than just Jews. He learned that from an unnamed woman in Samaria, who becomes a disciple and a witness, in fact one of the most effective witnesses in the New Testament.

If we do not believe in community and inclusion, what do we believe? If Desmond Tutu can say that both black and white South Africans can live as one people, isn’t it time we started saying as much? I see forces at play urging us to come into the fort and lock the gate. The woman at the well and Jesus have something different to say. The water is not in the well.

Sam Cooke

Jesus Gave Me Water:

Oh, Jesus gave me water Jesus gave me water Jesus gave me water Oh, let His praises swell Jesus gave me water Jesus gave me water Jesus gave me water

And it was not in the well

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