The water cooler, the fountain, the punch bowl and the well are almost hackneyed symbols of places in movies, dreams and the Bible (Isaac, Jacob, Moses) where one meets the beloved, the human tall, cool drink of water. The loving encounter the Samaritan woman had with Jesus at Jacob’s well is one of the stories onto which preachers most often project shadow material.
After perusing “Woman at the Well” sermons on the web, one might conclude that this half-breed outcast cur was a surly, sarcastic, presumptuous woman of ill repute. One might suspect that she was the repository of all of the dark feminine qualities; the very prototype of a disagreeable woman whom Paul suggested should be silent.
What if, instead, she simply came to the well at high noon, the peak of consciousness and enlightenment, for a drink of water rather than to avoid community shunning, gossip and shame as is usually hypothesized? What if, instead of sarcastic, she behaved as a human woman confused about relationships and her retort to Jesus’ “could I have a drink of water?” was friendly repartee, ‘flirting’ if you will? What if, instead of a prostitute, her panning and pining for (agape) love had reached an impasse?
This confusion of human and divine love seems ever present. What modern carbuncular teenager has not secretly read Song of the Solomon as soft porn or heard romantic songs such as those by Sade, Madonna, Prince and Bon Jovi with lyrics about love addressed to the Divine (?) or the romantic other (?) and come away baffled? And, what shall one make of Mary Magdalene’s song in Jesus Christ Superstar, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”? Then followed Brown’s Da Vinci Code on the heels of umpteen dozen sermons about Mary the Magdalene as the fallen woman despite the fact that she was a wealthy town leader who was one of Jesus’ benefactors.
When I was 16, the pastor’s son fell in love with me. He led me into his father’s study and proclaimed, “Daddy, I love her more than I love God.” I soon parted out of the relationship with the boy. I simply refused to compete with God.
What of Jesus’ rabbit punch about the well woman’s five previous husbands and current lover? There He was, with a healthy doctrine of sin, quietly noting her situation with gentle and firm confrontation. But, to a sensitive woman who valued relationships, it must have felt like, “who’s your daddy?” feels to a fatherless boy. Did she abruptly change the subject and send up a smoke screen in asking a theological question about where to worship after His psychic revelation to her? Maybe not; maybe she already knew that her serial monogamy, her false gods, had not led her to the spiritual place where she could find the real Cool Drink of Water. She wanted some of that water that lasted forever. She wanted to know how to look for love in all the right places. Just as Ezekiel had explained about his vision of the wheels, Jesus told her God is not about place; He is portable. Then He revealed his true identity. She left the well. She left her water pot. Some say she was one of the first evangelists.
Maybe the point of the story for the woman at the well was “seek ye first” the spiritual Cool Drink of Water. She had the good fortune to meet Jesus. We can hope there were many loving encounters for her among the newly converted Samaritans in her city.