the woman at the well

The Woman Of Samaria

(John 4:1-42)

There she goes ...
     the Woman of Samaria.
          I can see her in my mind's eye.
She is wearing a loose dress,
     the colour of burlap,
          somewhat like a long potato sack,
               cinched with a twisted cord of rope.
     It reaches down to a few inches above her sandalled feet.
She is wearing a headpiece of the same colour.
     It falls in folds halfway down her back.
On her right shoulder
          she is balancing a water jug,
               rather large in my eyes.
Surely it's heavy when it's full.

There she goes ...
     the Woman of Samaria ...
          walking to the well.
She travels down the well-worn path from town
     as it twists and turns,
          intimately acquainted, in her solitariness,
               with every curve,
                    every boulder and every lonely blade of grass.

Tunelessly she hums into the stillness
     of the noontime air.
Scuffing her feet,
          she raises little wisps of dust.
The perspiration beads on her upper lip
     and runs in rivulets down her back
          and between her breasts.
It is hot and sticky this time of the day
          but its the only time she feels safe
               to go for the water she needs.
     Safe from the taunts and innuendos,
          the glares and the hisses,
               the damning laughter of the other women.
The heat of the cloudless sky is more merciful than they.

Walking along - alone - lost in her thoughts
     she is startled to hear voices
          coming towards her
               just around the bend.
She casts down her eyes and moves over ...
     to avoid the men she sees approaching.
          Glancing up briefly
               she catches one hostile glare.
Glares are nothing new to her
     but this is different.
These men are Jews - not Samaritans - not her neighbours.
     They abruptly move further away from her
          as if she had the plague....
               Samaritans and Jews do not associate.

As she gets further along she no longer hears them.
Instead, the clicking and buzzing of countless insects grows louder.
     She relaxes and begins to sing a snatch of song,
               something she heard at a campfire one night.

          As the deer longs for flowing streams,
          so my soul longs for you, O God.
               My soul thirsts for the living God.
          When shall I come and behold the face of God?
               My tears have been my food day and night,
          While people say to me continually,
               "Where is your God?"

Despite her dreary hard life - she still hopes,
     still clings to the stories
          she heard as a child about Yahweh.

At last the well is in sight.
     But, what is this?
          A man - alone - sits by the well.
               A Jew.  Another Jew.
She feels tense, wary
     all her senses are heightened.
          Danger screams through every second that passes.
               She is alone...
                    a woman alone with a strange man.
She thinks: "Who IS this guy?
               What does He want?"
He is just sitting there
     looking dusty and worn and tired
          but strangely peaceful and calm
               and - despite the dust - radiant.

He smiles.
He speaks.
Breaks the silence and,
     in an instant,
          tears down the walls that distance ...
               that distance Jews and Samaritans
               that distance Women and Men.

He speaks.
     "Give me a drink."
It is so astonishing that
     she blurts back the question,
          "How is it, that YOU, a JEW - a MAN,
               ask a drink of ME, a WOMAN of SAMARIA?"

This man wastes no time debating
     but challenges her:
     "If you knew the gift of God, 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."

The woman is so startled, so overwhelmed,
     so on fire with excitement, she babbles:
          "You have no bucket!"
               "The well is deep."
                    "Where do you get this water?"
               "Are you better than our ancestor Jacob?"
          "Do you know what you're saying?"
To herself, she says,
     "I must be dreaming.  It must be the heat.
          I feel so dizzy."

This man goes on, in the midst of her confusion,
     "Everyone who drinks this water will thirst again
          but those who drink of the water I will give them
               will never again thirst.
          My water will become in them a spring
               of water, gushing up to eternal life.

"Sir," she pleads, "give me this water so I'll never be thirsty
     and I'll never have to come back here to draw water again."
She doesn't know what she is saying.
     She is standing on strange ground.
          Everything is upside down and different today in this place.

Then, the man totally blows her away.
     He knows everything about her, the whole sorry tale,
          and tells her,
               about her mixed-up life,
                    the five husbands
                         and the live-in lover she has now.
Back and forth this preposterous conversation goes.

Finally she tells him,
     "I know that Messiah is coming
          and when he comes
               he will tell us all things."

           "I am he!  The one who is speaking to you."

The words of the song from the campfire come back to her:
          When shall I come and behold the face of God?


Sister of Samaria,
     I reach out to you
          across the years,
To ask you about what happened that day.
     Can you tell me?
          Did he touch your heart?
               Did he really reach in and renew you?
What happened to you after he left
     and the days and months went by?
          What happened when you heard
               he'd gone up to Jerusalem
                    to hang on a Cross and die?
Or, were you there?
     With the other women,
          at the foot of the cross?
               With his mother,
                    in an agonizing wait,
                         when darkness fell on the land?

O, Sister of mine,
     without a name,
          You are not anonymous!
               Your story's been told.
                    We're telling it new.
                         You are not anonymous!

Sister of Samaria,
     I reach out to you across the years.
          If you were here
               I'd give you a hug and a smile and
                    I'd hold on tight.
But you are not here - so - the gift I'll give
     in your memory
     to love those who are here with me tonight.
          I'll give them a hug and a smile
               and I'll hold on tight.

Goodnight, Sister, Goodnight.

© Charlene Elizabeth Fairchild - 1994, 2002, 2005

See also
Woman At The Well: Part I of A Bible Study and Woman At The Well: Part II
Dramatic Gospel Presentation and Liturgy for Lent 3 - Year A
A Cup Of Cold Water

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