Always on the Go

The Woman at The Well

Jesus came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.   Jacob’s well was there. Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well. It was about noon.  A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”  His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.  The Samaritan woman said to him, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.) 

Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”  [The woman] said to him, “Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where then can you get this living water?  Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?” 

Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again;but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”  Jesus said to her, “Go call your husband and come back.”  The woman answered and said to him, “I do not have a husband.”

Jesus answered her, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’  For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.”   The woman said to him, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet.  Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.”  Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.  You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews.   But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him.  God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.”

The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Anointed; when he comes, he will tell us everything.”  Jesus said to her, “I am he the one who is speaking with you.”  At that moment his disciples returned, and were amazed that he was talking with a woman, but still no one said, “What are you looking for?” or “Why are you talking with her?”  The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people,  “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Messiah?”  They went out of the town and came to him. 

Meanwhile, the disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat.”  But he said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.”  So the disciples said to one another, “Could someone have brought him something to eat?”  Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work.  Do you not say, ‘In four months the harvest will be here’? I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest.  The reaper is already receiving his payment and gathering crops for eternal life, so that the sower and reaper can rejoice together.  For here the saying is verified that ‘One sows and another reaps.’  I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the work, and you are sharing the fruits of their work.” 

Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me everything I have done.”  When the Samaritans came to him, they invited him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days.  Many more began to believe in him because of his word,and they said to the woman, “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”

John 4, 5-42

His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.

John 4, 8

The story of the woman at the well is a familiar tale to many of us.  Familiar stories are best.  Best in the same way that familiar songs are best.  Over the years you acquire your own associations, based on the experiences of your own life, and then apply those associations to an old song or an old story until eventually you have a treasure house of recollection and insights to inform a way of looking at life that is yours and yours alone.  Problems arise, however, when that treasure house becomes cramped and cluttered.  That’s when the old story becomes a boring story.  That’s when your recollections and insights become a burden rather than a blessing.

Since this particular story relies as much as it does on humor, allowing us to smile at the woman for wanting to fill her bucket with ‘living water’ and later smile at the disciples for wondering who could have brought Jesus the food ‘of which you do not know’, we’re sure to eventually tire of a joke whose punch line is already etched in our memory.

Let’s do something different then.  Let’s play out this scene after we’ve deleted all the speaking lines from the script.  Let’s see what happens when all we have left are the stage directions.

The well, of course, is center stage.  Jesus plants himself center stage at the beginning of the scene and stays put for the entirety of the action.  All the other cast members are on the move.  The disciples leave the stage just as the woman arrives.  When we strip away the dialogue, it becomes obvious that Jesus is calling the woman toward him just as he’s sending the disciples forth.  Coming and going.  Taking in and pouring out.  After a while, the disciples are called home and the woman is sent forth.  Jesus is the unmoving focal point of all the movement.  Then the woman is called home along with the townspeople.  Presumably, when the scene closes, everyone is sent forth.

A heart draws blood in and drives it out again.  If blood came to the heart and stayed there it would do no good.  Actually it would do harm because it would prevent the rest of the blood from doing its life-sustaining work.  The lungs inhale and they exhale.  We’re comfortable as long as this pattern is regular and continuous.  You can stop the process if you choose, of course, but it won’t be long until you’re in considerable pain.

Jesus is the heart, and the lungs.  Jesus is the calling in and the sending forth.  Without movement there is no life.  If Jesus is calling you to his side you can be sure of finding mercy and compassion.  In fact, it’s your duty to fill yourself with mercy and compassion.  Just as surely, though, you’ll be sent away.  Then you will be mercy and compassion to others.  Then it will be your body that is broken and your blood that is poured out.  That’s when you return your broken and empty self back to your Savior.  You never ‘get there’.  You never ‘arrive’.  You’re always on the go, and your comings in and goings out are your response to the will of God.

If we are to be the worshippers that the Father seeks, we must worship in ‘Spirit and truth’.  We can only do this if we can find a way to transcend our little lives and to participate in the life of the Spirit.  We have to move past the business of drawing water that will temporarily relieve our thirst.  We can not be concerned, merely, with our own personal needs and our own personal desires.  That is not the way that leads to Eternal Life.

We’ve taken this familiar scene and we’ve turned the volume off.  In this way we observe a dynamic that was always part of the scene even if our attention was directed toward something else.  Jesus called the woman to himself, not to address the concerns she thought were pressing, not to keep her heart and mind focused on the work of gathering water to satisfy her body; rather, Jesus called the woman to be an agent of salvation to the people of her town.  Once Jesus got a hold of her she stopped living for herself alone.  Like Jesus, she found sustenance in doing the will of the one who sent her.  The living water is not to be drawn by those who keep themselves at center stage.  It’s only available to those who make Jesus the focal point of their comings and goings.

Self centeredness is a trap, and it’s a torment as well.  When we’re centered on ourselves, which is another way of saying that we’re living in the flesh, we’re constantly chasing the water that perishes because we’re slaves to our own will.  To be called by Jesus is to be offered the chance to do the will of the Father – which is to draw water from the Eternal spring and then to become water for others.  Our torment is relieved when Christ becomes our center, when we stop being focused on our desires and learn to be focused on the cross.

Notice that the woman left her water jar at the well.  What does it mean for us to carry our own personal water jar?  What does it mean to leave our jar with Jesus and to quench the thirst of others with a spring of water welling up inside of ourselves?  While we carry our own jar we determine our own comings and our own goings.  Our motto is, “My will be done.”  We drop our jar in order to be called toward the source of life and then sent forth to be the source of life.  Then our motto becomes, “Thy will be done.”

To watch, and to contemplate what goes on once Jesus is at the center of the stage is to come to understand that the Father wants more from us that simply to do this good thing or that good thing.  That’s not what the story is about.  The story is about completely transforming the way we look at life.  The story is not about us.  It’s about the one who ‘truly is the Savior of the World.”


About captaincatholic

Fifty Eight Year old 'Cradle Catholic'. Married for twenty two years to the magnificent Pam. Father to the unsurpassable Angelique. Parishioner at Sacred Heart Parish in Lexington MA.

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