The Samaritan woman has made the familiar journey to this well countless times before. She's made the journey so many times she could walk there in her sleep.
And here, on this particular morning, her reason for making the journey is the same as it has always been. She's come to this familiar place because of her familiar need: water.
This woman's need is a real need, just as it was for so many. Just as it is for so many.
And it is here, in this familiar spot at the well, that she's struck by something quite unfamiliar. When she arrives, she's taken aback to find sitting there a Man who she does not recognize, but who, quite mysteriously, seems to know her all too well. And it is somewhere in the midst of their conversation that she comes to understand him as “the solution” for her need.
“If you knew the gift of God," He tells her, "and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” He is, she realizes, the one who can help satisfy her thirst in a real, permanent way.
"Sir, give me this water," she says in haste, "so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” But what she doesn’t quite get in their interaction is that there is a qualitative difference between what she thinks this Jewish man offers her and what he actually offers. And, in this way, this woman is a lot like you and I.
“Give me this living water,” she tells Jesus, not knowing the meaning of her words, even as they pour out of her mouth. And Jesus knows this. The look he gives her in response must be one of deepest sympathy. “Oh, child,” He must think. “If only You would let me.”
“Give me,” she says to Jesus, with her thoughts still on her thirst, with her need for water motivating her words. And even before she finishes her sentence, the Samaritan woman has already projected her own interests onto Jesus, with complete disregard for what Jesus is actually interested in offering her.
As for her, so, too, for all of us.
“Give me,” we say to Jesus in our prayers each morning or before bed at night. “If only You would just …” we say while rubbing shampoo into our hair, or while bowing over our cold cereal, eyes closed—all the while ignoring what Jesus actually desires for us.
The woman's need for water is a real need. Jesus understood that. But he knew her needs went beyond water. And we would be fools to think her needs end there.
"The Kingdom of God is what we, all of us, hunger for," Frederick Buechner once wrote (The Clown in the Belfry), "above all other things even when we don’t know its name or realize that it’s what we’re starving to death for."
"My heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee," St. Augustine put the same point, many hundreds of years earlier.
Both men are, of course, speaking of, pointing toward the same thing we find here in this familiar story of the thirsty woman at the well.
“If you knew who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water,” Jesus says to the woman at the well.
A blind hunger for the Kingdom of God. A restless heart. A woman fetching water that will never fully satisfy.
"Go, call your husband and come here," Jesus says to the woman at this point, which is Jesus' way of telling the woman, “I know you need more than water, and I know you know that you need more than water. And what's more, I know you've been filling that need with that which does not satisfy.”
As for her, so it is for all of us.
Before their conversation is through, the Samaritan woman tells this mysterious Jewish teacher she can see he is a prophet. Perhaps to prove her religious knowledge, she goes even further and tells him she knows the Messiah will, one day, come to tell her and everyone else all there is to know.
“I who speak to you am he,” Jesus says. And her life, we can assume, was never the same again.
Following her experience at the well, the woman rushes back to town to tell everyone she knows, everyone who will listen to her about this mysterious man she has just met.
“He told me all that I ever did,” she says, still struggling to catch her breath. Which is to say, “He knew all about me, even though I didn’t tell him.” Jesus understood this woman, just as he understands all of us. He understood her as a “Samaritan,” and he understood her as an “adulterer.” Even in the “Give me” of our prayers, Jesus understands each one of us, too.
Long before we come with lunging arms to grab what we imagine he has to offer, he understands us. He knows our needs. And it is only in our encounter with the Living Person of Jesus Christ that we, too, find our posture changed from one of “Give me” to one of “He understands me.” He can change our “give me” to “Thank you for understanding me.”
It is only in Jesus understanding us that we begin to understand ourselves. And it is only in our understanding ourselves that we begin to realize what Jesus truly offers us—something far better than our “Give me” posture.
What the Samaritan Women came to realize is that Jesus offers much more—not less—than the water she originally sought from the bottom of the all too familiar well.
What she sought is different even from what she understands by his words, “Living water,” because she is still hearing him speak to her out of her own “Give me” posture.
It is only after she sees Jesus as the one who knows her that she begins to see Jesus as someone who has something to say—not just to her, but to everyone. And it’s not long before she’s off in a flash, running to tell others—running to tell anyone who will listen.
“We know this is the Savior of the world,” the townspeople who hear the woman’s story say to one another, which is to say, “We know this is the One who understands each one of us.”
The woman at the well came that day seeking water, but she sought much more than just water. She was starving to death, even as she did her best to satisfy her thirst.
"If only you knew," Jesus says. If only you knew from whom you requested a drink, you would ask, and you would be satisfied. And in your satisfaction, you would tell the world.
Come, Lord Jesus, and change our posture from, “give me” to, “He understands me.”
This blog post is Ryan Pemberton's reflection on the story of Jesus' encounter with the woman at the well, from the fourth chapter of John's Gospel, verses 1 to 45.
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