Third Week of Lent: Encountering Jesus at the Waterfront
This reflection is part of a series of Lenten reflections from United Methodist Women members and Women’s Division staff to accompany you to Easter. See other reflections.
There she was – at the well – an amazing, unnamed woman.
There are some who have claimed this unnamed Samaritan woman was a powerful woman. Jesus’ conversation with her is the longest conversation he had with anyone in Scripture. Her answers are deeply intelligent answers, knowledgeable of scriptural texts of the day. She was a leader, proven by the fact that after she left the well that day and told people in the village who she had found, those people “believed in him because of [her] testimony”.
Then how on earth did she become, in tradition, a “loose woman”? Even if she had married five men, she couldn’t have done so legally if it were not licit. In fact, why did tradition miss the fact that there’s nothing loose about her at all? She had five husbands but the one she has now is not her husband. What does that mean? There could be a lot of interpretations. But, alas, tradition jumped to “loose woman.”
Oh, then there’s the noontime gathering of water. “What woman would be gathering water at noontime?” the biblical traditionalists say. “Only a woman who did not want to be conversing with other women, who felt rejected, or who did not belong in the group of women.” This seems a big jump.
Perhaps people at home were thirsty and she volunteered to make an extra trip to the well. Perhaps she had shared her water jug with someone who was sick and needed more. Perhaps she had been so absorbed in her early morning prayer she just didn’t get to the well in the morning. Perhaps her daughter was sick.
Perhaps she was uniquely intuitive, wise, aware and attentive to the tremors in the ground around Jesus. Perhaps she knew he was coming and wanted to meet him and have this incredible conversation with him. Perhaps she knew Jesus would be thirsty when he arrived at the well and wanted to be the one to draw the water for him. It could even be it was cool that day and she changed her normal routine.
There are a billion other reasons for her presence at the well at that time of day. But, alas, tradition jumped to “rejected, loose woman.”
Women’s ways are so often misinterpreted. Around the world, women are placed in situations requiring creative solutions to their many responsibilities – the carrying of water, the carrying of children, the carrying of household duties, the carrying of relationships, the carrying of family, the spiritual substance of life – yet they are rarely given the credit or respect they deserve. Relegated to the free “care” economy, judged for how well they do that large (but narrow) task in the eyes of their husbands and cultures, their intuition and wisdom is disregarded in the economies of the day. Thus they suffer disproportionately from lack of opportunity.
This week over 160 delegates from around the world are at the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women with the Ecumenical Women team, fighting for the sake of women about how the world finances development aid. Part of that gender equality consists of naming the disparaging ways tradition, religion, government, institutions and cultures have previously not respected women’s intuitive understanding and action, in order to allow women to come forward with their uniquely powerful ways.
The possibility of meeting Jesus is a drive deep within our hearts. Responding to that yearning is not always according to the customs and traditions of the day. It is often deeply invested in the intuitive compass placed in our hearts which points toward changing our path so we can again receive, or be told, where to find “the living water.” In addition, the actual meeting with Jesus at that well of living water even more revolutionarily changes our identities, our priorities and our reasons for doing things. The institutions and traditions of the day are dry until re-energized by the presence of the living Christ, who valued a woman at the well enough to talk with her, hear her out, respect her thoughts and give her the possibility of understanding him.
Living water, come forth into our lives and hearts. Wherever dry and parched hearts, minds and bodies exist, give us courage to let the spring of living water deep in our hearts burst forth from us. If we are to go to the well at noontime or in the evening, let us not be afraid to do what we need to do to infuse our communities, our traditions and institutions with that water, which wells up into eternal life. Amen.
*Kathleen Stone is the chaplain of the Church Center for the United Nations in New York City.