Isn't it funny sometimes how the very images and metaphors we think are helping us to understand something can help to distance us from it, too.
I'm wondering about the story of Jesus meeting a woman at a well. He's been travelling with the disciples and, as they've headed off in search of food from the nearest town, Jesus sits down by a well. A woman comes to draw water and he asks her for a drink. There's a long list of reasons why, in those days, he shouldn't have been doing that. And that's part of the point, he speaks to someone he shouldn't and she shouldn't be speaking with him. But they do. And, as he had asked her for water because he was thirsty, he offers her "water," the water of life. “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" (John 4:13-14). Jesus is the water of life, life-giving to the spirit and quenching the thirst of the soul. As he seems to know who she truly is, she comes to know that he is the messiah. So she leaves the well and goes to tell others in her town about this "water of life" and they come also to see Jesus.
Here's two important images: Jesus talks to someone he shouldn't and they talk about the water of life. How shall we think about them?
Why shouldn't Jesus speak to this woman? Well, she was a Samaritan and, historically, Jews didn't associate with Samaritans. Period. And she was a woman and, historically, hebrew men did not speak to women alone. Period. And, as Jesus reveals, she's had five husbands and currently lives with a man who's not her husband. That's been interpreted a lot of ways, but, historically, he shouldn't be talking to her about it. Period. And she's at the well at noon by herself which is usually interpreted as she's been ostracized by her community, so, again, he shouldn't be approaching her. Period.
Great, so it's pretty clear after all those periods that he shouldn't be talking to her. But what does all that mean to us? If we put this story in our contemporary context, how would we describe this person? More to the point, instead of a stereotype, think for a minute of who we would set apart or ostracize. Why? What would make them so unapproachable, so set apart? And so broken.
Yes, broken. Because that's what this woman is. We don't really know her back story, but we do know it seems to be full of broken relationships, both with individuals and community. We know that when Jesus offers her the refreshment he offers, she embraces it and shares it with others - she evangelizes and brings others to see Jesus.
And she brings them to him for this special "water of life." Isn't water a powerful image? We need water to live. We're made of water (between 45 and 75% based on age, gender and body type). The things we eat need water. The world needs water.
But how do we, where we live, perceive that need? Our water comes from a tap. We're surrounded by oceans, lakes and rivers and all the water in creation. We bottle water to make it more easily transportable and because it "tastes better." Few of us know the struggle of having to travel to a well daily, carrying what we need, and many are more likely to consume water as an ingredient in a carbonated beverage, coffee or tea than by itself. Do we know a real thirst?
How will this story speak to us? Who do we make outcast and how shall we offer them what they need? And in doing so, how will we recognize our own brokenness and find what we need?
Perhaps wholeness may be found in understanding how we share with each other: we who are broken know what it means to be thirsty, just as we who know the love and grace of God through Jesus know what it means to offer life-giving water.