Monday, March 13, 2017

Details from the Woman at the Well

There are a lot of interesting details in the story of Jesus and the woman at the well.  And I love looking at details.  I don't know if it is my shady past as an English major, or my love of one-to-one conversations, or if it is something else entirely, but I have found details from this story fascinating.

Take for example, the fact that the encounter takes place at high noon.  One chapter ago, Jesus met Nicodemus in the dark.  There is this chiaroscuro quality to their conversation, both light an darkness, insight and ambiguity.  He says, "How can this be?"  He is wrestling with the implications of what Jesus is saying.  That can't be a bad thing.  I think of the darkness in the story as a place of germination for Nicodemus' faith, and for ours, too.

But the next story takes place in brood daylight, high noon.  All the other women came to the well early in the morning when it was not so hot.  Why is the woman there by herself?  There's another detail to be reckoned with.

Here's the detail I am thinking about right now, though:  at the very beginning of the story, Jesus initiates the conversation by saying to the woman, "Give me a drink."

I think this is a very odd evangelism technique.

In John's gospel, Jesus does not come off as needy very often.  From the very beginning, he is the Messiah, the anointed, the Holy One of God.  He is self-assured.  He does weep at Lazarus' tomb.  But then, he raises him from the dead.

But today, he is sitting at Jacob's well on a hot day, and he begins by asking for help.

Water.

That's how this very deep theological conversation, the longest recorded conversation Jesus has with anybody, begins.

I think back to my missionary past, and the assumptions that I made when I first arrived.  I considered the good news that I had to share.  I thought that I should open with that.  Get right to the point.  Tell people what I knew.

But Jesus didn't.  He started with his own vulnerability.  He wanted a drink of water.  But at some point in the conversation, she discovered that she was thirsty too.  She didn't know how thirsty she was.

Sometimes I think that Jesus, at the beginning, is being coy.  "Give me a drink," he says, but he's not REALLY thirsty.  He's just saying that.  But then I think ahead to the end of the story, and how Jesus says, from the cross,  "I am thirsty."  Here he is, the Water of Life himself, and he is thirsty unto death.

Give me a drink, he says.  That is how the Savior of the world saves us.  By being thirsty.


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