Are there Bible stories that you just never tire of hearing? For me, it’s this week’s window, of the woman at the well. There’s so much to dig into here (so much, in fact, that I had people sit for the Gospel reading!). I knew that this reading is coming back up next Lent, so I really tried to pick one thing to focus on: the woman leaving her jar behind. This encounter with Jesus came in the middle of her mundane tasks but was so extraordinary that she completely abandoned what she was doing. What type of event or encounter would it take for me to do that today?
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
She left her jar behind. I love that small detail from this long story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman’s encounter at the well. She left her jar behind. Presumably, she needed the water. She had come out to the well in the middle of the day, after all. You usually come to the well in the early morning, or in the evening, when it’s cooler. But she had come at noon. You wouldn’t do that if you didn’t need water. But still, she leaves her jar, as she runs back to her village to share what she had found instead of water at the well.
It’s a wonderful detail in a story where we don’t have as many details as we’d like. We don’t know much about this woman, we don’t even know her name. We’re given a few details from her life, that Jesus recounts to her. She has had five husbands, and currently is not married. That’s all we know.
We wonder, and our imaginations begin to fill in the gaps for us. I’ve often heard this woman judged for her situation. As if she is somehow immoral. This woman has been either widowed or divorced five times over. We assume she bears at least some blame. But that’s our modern minds filling in the gaps of an ancient story. Women in Jesus’ time didn’t decide when they were going to get married. They didn’t have much say in the matter at all. And while they could be divorced, they couldn’t initiate one. If this woman has indeed been divorced five times, it wasn’t something she choose. And the most likely reason for it was that she hadn’t been able to have any children. Her story is much less scandalous than it is deeply sad, and lonely.
We don’t know her whole story, but Jesus does. Jesus knows, without being told, her past, and we can assume he knows more details than are shared. He tells her these things so that she might take him seriously. So that she can see he is indeed a prophet, and more than a prophet. But he doesn’t offer judgment. He doesn’t blame her or anyone else for her circumstances. He simply names the reality.
And I love how their exchange continues from there. In Jesus, this woman has found someone who knows her whole truth—and doesn’t treat her any differently because of it! He engages with her questions, takes her seriously, and reveals his true self in exchange. When she says that she believes in the Messiah, he responds: I am he. Except, in order to translate the Greek smoothly, we’ve added that extra word, “he.” Jesus actually says to her: I am. I am. It is more than a simple statement. It is the name of God. Jesus reveals his whole self to this woman, and he makes good on his promise of living water.
And she leaves her jar behind. She has received living water in the form of Jesus’ truth and acceptance. She leaves her jar behind and goes to share what she has found with the people of her village. But she leaves more than just her jar. She leaves her abandonment behind. She leaves her isolation behind. She leaves her rejection behind. She leaves them behind because she has found living water. She has experienced the salvation that Jesus brings. The new life of relationship with Jesus. She leaves the jar behind and goes to share the good news she has found. There was a lot stacked against her, but nevertheless she leaves it behind to share the story of what God has done.
What jars would you like to leave behind? What jars do you need to leave behind? What is keeping you from living into the future that God has prepared for you and sharing the good news of what God has done? What jars do we need to leave, trading our past tragedies and present challenges for the living water that Jesus offers? Maybe it’s a dead-end job or the difficulty of finding one. Maybe it’s an unfulfilling relationship or no relationship at all. Maybe it’s a past wound or fear about the future. Maybe it’s an illness, or grief, or anxiety, or guilt, or shame. What is it that you struggle with, that holds you back from accepting the living water Jesus offers?
Just as Jesus knew the woman, her whole story, Jesus knows us. God could tell us everything we’ve ever done. The things we’re proud of, the memories that bring us joy and love, and the things that bring us shame, worry, and pain. God knows our whole truths. And God is not deterred by them. God offers us living water. God offers us relationship. God offers us futures not limited by our pasts.
The water of life that Jesus gives can’t erase this woman’s past. It can’t take away the years of feeling shame, or failure, or worry. But it can offer a different future. A future where she is more than abandoned. More than shamed. More than ostracized. God’s well of water never runs dry.
We don’t know much about this woman at all. But we do know she ran to tell her village about Jesus’ truth and power, all the while wondering—could it really be the Messiah? Like the disciples left their nets, she left her jar to share the good news. In the Orthodox Church, tradition has given this woman at the well a name: Photini. It means the enlightened one. And she is celebrated as an Evangelist and Apostle.
She came to the well alone, for the daily task of retrieving water. She left without her jar, forgetting completely what had brought her there in the first place. And she returned with a multitude, to share the life that she had found. Her words invite us, today: Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did. And still gave me the living water of salvation: relationship, belonging, and love. Come and see. Amen.