Slyne with Hest
Moses is leading a people who until recently were slaves; their identity had been given to them by their oppressors. But with their hard labour they had at least received bed and board. Now, as a free people, there are no guarantees, and whenever a problem arises they blame Moses for taking their chains away.
God has already provided manna for them; will they trust him to provide water? Apparently not. Here is an example of failure to trust and to become the people God wants them to be, that was told down the generations (as we see in Psalm 95.9-11).
John, the master storyteller, weaves a narrative for us full of humour, missed communication and the profoundly metaphorical use of water as a symbol of the life God gives us.
It starts simply enough. It’s the middle of the day and Jesus is thirsty. A woman comes to the well and a conversation starts up. The scene is odd for two reasons. First, drawing water in the middle of the day is unusual (it was usually done around sunrise). Second, a Jewish man asks for water from a Samaritan woman. That the woman comes to the well when no one else does suggests that she’s got something to hide. The fact that Jesus asks for water from someone he shouldn’t even be speaking to suggests he has something to give.
The woman misunderstands Jesus’ metaphor about living water, and deflects him from following up his insight into her domestic life with an attempt to have a conversation about correct forms of worship. Her comment about him not having a bucket is wonderfully funny, but leaving her bucket (water jar) to go and get her neighbours is a deeply moving image of leaving everything to follow Jesus. The gentle humour of the story highlights the enormity of her decision.
A woman who draws water at noon to avoid her neighbours now goes to seek those neighbours out, to tell them what Jesus has done for her. And her action seems to be a contrast with that of the disciples, who are more concerned that Jesus eats something (v.31). Indeed, Jesus’ reference to harvest and sending them to reap what they haven’t sowed could be read as a rebuke for them disappearing when there was work to be done – work that is now being done by this woman (vv.35-38).
What the woman does is to share her astonishment with her neighbours. She has had a conversation with a man who has deep insight into who she is, which makes her wonder whether he’s the Messiah. Some of her neighbours believe her story and believe in Jesus; but far more come to hear Jesus for themselves, and so to believe in him.
At the heart of the story is that the woman is exposed for who she really is by Jesus and yet is not shamed by it. Rather, she is set free to become what grace will make her. She embraces a new identity based on facing the truth about herself, but much more the truth of who Jesus is. Jesus shows himself to be not just Israel’s Messiah but the Saviour of the world.
The links between the lectionary readings
When confronted by a difficult situation, the temptation is to complain or run away. Israel in the wilderness of Sin took the first option; the Samaritan woman began to take the second by trying to distract Jesus from his core message to her. But she courageously allows Jesus’ words to do their work. The psalmist urges us to listen to the voice of God even when the word he speaks is a hard one. Paul reminds us that Jesus died for the ungodly, and so whatever he wants to say to us will ultimately be for our salvation.
A personal prayer
Call me deeper, God, draw me closer. Refresh and restore my soul this week, and may I in turn refresh others. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
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