6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. 7A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”
I was 24 years old, sitting at a youth camp, counseling a cabin full of girls. One of the speakers shared about the Samaritan woman at the well and her encounter with Jesus. I’m sure you know the story well. Jesus met her at the well when the sun was high. She was performing her daily task of drawing water-alone. According to our speaker, she had been ostracized by her community due to a bad reputation; she had been married 5 times after all, and was now living with a man who wasn’t her husband.
It was unheard of, he told us, that Jesus was having this conversation. Culturally, he shouldn’t have been speaking to her. Even if you put aside the issue of her prior marriages, her gender should have made her off limits.
Regardless, Jesus struck up a conversation with the woman, asking her to draw him a drink from the well. As youth workers, we were trained to see this request as Jesus’ way into a conversation with her.
She is very well aware that there are all kinds of boundaries that are being crossed in this interaction-“How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”
So many boundaries…
If you’ve ever been marginalized, or experienced prejudice or bigotry, then you can instantly relate to her question. It’s not second nature; it’s first. She knew, deep in her bones, all the reasons this conversation shouldn’t be happening.
You see, marginalization makes you think twice about where you can go, who you might run into, what awkward conversations you could find yourself in, and what battles you’ll have to fight. You become an expert at code switching-the practice of alternating between the hidden social rules and norms of your culture and the rules and norms of the dominant culture.
Her question stands out to me…even more than the dialogue about living water. It stops me in my tracks. She essentially asks him, “Why are you talking to me?”
I hear fear, limitation, frustration, irritation, exhaustion and judgment in her question. I can feel the years of knowing, and being raised to know, her “place” in society.
As the conversation moves along, Jesus ends up challenging her understanding of worship and where/how it happens. I’m struck by the context of the conversation; it happens between two individuals that, for all intents and purposes, are enemies.
This shouldn’t be happening.
The idea of “worshipping God” in spirit and in truth cannot be separated from this holy conversation ; it is connected to the kind of worship where boundaries and walls come down. Jesus’ presence with this Samaritan woman is an authentic expression of the kinds of conversations that lead to transformative worship.
Jesus challenges her cultural expectations of worship-where and how it happens. The Incarnation will do that. In fact, he teases out the idea that TRUE and AUTHENTIC worship cannot be contained in a place, but in the hearts of a people who are seeking God earnestly. Part of this seeking happens when we engage with our enemies, or at the very least, those whom we judge or despise.
Every time I heard this story, it was preached by a man. They always stopped at verse 26 where Jesus let her know that indeed, he was the Messiah: “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” That is AMAZING good news, but stopping at this point implies that Jesus is the only significant actor to come out of this story. The news that liberated me happens just 13 verses later:
4:39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.”
This is what I thirst for-bold proclamation that Jesus’ interaction with those who are marginalized, including women, is on the front edge of God’s Kingdom work. Worshiping God in Spirit and in truth includes telling the whole truth about a God whose conversations begin in the margins. Jesus empowered a Samaritan Woman to do this “telling” of the Good News.
The Incarnation is unique in this sense. It crosses over and through boundaries, and it produces transformation in the hearts of individual people and communities. It incarnates, if you will, in the most unlikely of people and places. And it’s contagious.
As we continue our Lenten journey, may God bless us with opportunities to engage, and be engaged, by those we consider to be the “other”…especially those that are marginalized. That may be our best chance to receive the unexpected “telling” of the Good News…it may be the testimony that helps us believe in him.
Rev. Lina Thompson
Pastor, Lake Burien Presbyterian Church
Longtime Friend and former Board Chair, Street Psalms
Click to read Meal from Below: A Lenten Devotional