We know only three things about her: she was on her 6th man (with whom marriage was apparently not an option), she was at the well with her water jar at high noon, and she was a Samaritan.
But I think we can imagine one more thing: she was lonely. Intensely lonely. I have now lived nearly an entire summer in Orlando, and I understand one detail in this story much better now: no woman who wants to socialize with other women—especially while working outside—would choose high noon to make her appearance.
Yet this woman did. She was all alone at the well at high noon with her jar…and with Jesus.
Jesus: Woman, may I have a drink?
Woman: (Holding jar to her chest) Don’t you know the rules? You are not supposed to be asking that of me. (Gives Jesus a drink…)
Jesus: (Hands jar back) If you knew who I was, you would be asking me for life-giving water.
Woman: (Keeps holding jar) I don’t see how you are prepared to draw anything out of this well. And besides, who are you?
Jesus: Everyone thinks that real water is in that well, but, honestly, real, living water doesn’t come from a well—the water I give you will come bubbling up within your soul forever.
Woman: (Lowering her jar ever so slightly) Sir…please give me the water you are talking about. I’m so thirsty, and I grow weary of this well. (and I’m at my most isolated when I’m here.)
Jesus: (Quietly) Go call your husband and come here.
Woman: (Jar UP) I have no husband.
Jesus: No, you don’t have a husband, do you? You’ve had five husbands and the one you have now has not married you. You are telling the truth.
Woman: (Jar frozen against chest) (Wow, you know how to get to the jugular. I just asked you for water…) Well, I see that you are a prophet…So where do you say we should worship…on this mountain or in Jerusalem?”
…And thus begins one of the most profound discussions of Christian worship recorded in the book of John. Amazing what can come out of a change of topic intended to protect a hurting heart. But somewhere under the amazing words must have been Jesus’ tone, and his facial expressions…and his spirit. We do not see these things, but we do see the response Jesus draws forth from this woman…He tells her he is the Christ. But before he gets any farther, he is interrupted by the disciples coming back to the well with with food…Awkward moment for the disciples, but apparently not for the woman or Jesus. She leaves her water jar—that symbol of her self-protected life—at the well, and goes back to the very people she has been avoiding and says, “Come and see a man who told me all that I ever did.”
A jar. A dialogue filled with the evasion borne of isolation. And that astonishing man, Jesus. How I would have loved to see his eyes when he heard and responded to her change of subject. Was there a twinkle there, a sort of “Woman, we both know what we are really talking about, but if you want to have that conversation pressed through the door of worship, I’m willing to go there with you. Just remember that I still have the water your thirsty, isolated heart is longing for.”
In the end she leaves her jar behind and goes back to relay the conversation under the conversation. What a great story!
Jesus reaches through the pages of Scripture to talk to me through my jars, too. “Carla, you don’t have to pretend that everything is easy in Orlando, even though I am blessing your steps. It is OK to be achingly lonely, to be weary of not having a home. To miss Wyatt and your red reading chair. (In that order.) I understand. Let go of your jar and let’s talk about both things: the doors I am delighting to open here in Orlando and the step I want your take next, as well as the one door you really long for but do not yet have access to. Daughter, you do not have to pretend that “blessed” and “easy” are same thing, nor that “effective ministry” and “comfortable community” always dwell in the same space. Life is full of double meanings, and I can handle both lines of the conversation at once.”
Perhaps I need to have more “double-meaning” conversations with Jesus. These days my challenge is not so much the desire to protect my heart from others so much as it is to protect part of my heart from the rest of me. So here we have it. I am so thankful for these blessed steps. And I am simultaneously aching for home. Did you hear that, heart? I am certain that you did, Jesus.