One of the many reasons that the Bible is called the Living Bible is that it is a story of mankind. From prehistoric time through the life of Jesus, the Son of Man (the ordinary man) as he called himself, to the twenty-first century, the story continues to be relevant. The Bible is a story of people and their relationships, their loves and fears, their prejudices and those who would risk their very lives to find unity in the heart of a universal Oneness that many of us call God.
To understand the story of the “Woman at the Well”, we need to understand something of the historical and social context of this meeting. Not only was it socially incorrect for a unmarried man and woman to speak at a well, there was also a schism between the Samaritans and ‘the Jews’. This prejudice went back to the time of the rebuilding of the Temple of Solomon. Jewish exiles returned from Babylon and found that while they were away, the Assyrian king had resettled the northern Jewish Capitol, Samaria, with pagans who had intermarried with the Jews. The southern capitol in Jerusalem had kept the Jewish remnant pure.
As politics and religion are both represented by governing bodies, sometimes integrated but often competing social forces; we can understand that while essentially Jewish, the Samarians, not wishing to be controlled by Jerusalem, developed their own religious sect; a separate religious community which called itself “the Sons of Light” with its own version of Torah. Both groups of Jews thought that they were ‘the’ purer, holier and ‘God’s chosen ones’ and of course, they were critical of each other. Like all hostilities, over the years this division grew, so it was natural that the Samaritan woman was acculturated to believe that as a Samaritan, she was DIFFERENT. Her sense of Separateness both as a Samaritan and a woman was ingrained in her. It was a part of who she was.
Have we not also grown up with a sense of belonging to a culture..a nationality…a religious tradition that tells us that we are different, perhaps better than others? For the governing and the affluent, being special feels like a blessing with its sense of entitlement inherent with belonging to a dominant family, social group, or tribe. Its curse is the fear of losing the protection of the very thing in which your safety lies. For the outcast, the curse of social rejection and its internalization is a barrier to overcome. Its blessing is in the need to align oneself with more than the self. Where ever we are on the continuum, there is an invisible line where the sense of belonging somewhere becomes a sense of separation somewhere else and consequently, a BARRIER. The fear of the loss of safety becomes a driving force for rationalization, injustice and xenophobia.
Jesus, the proclaimed ‘Son of Man’ or ‘ordinary man’ KNOWS he is the Son of God. He knows that EVERYONE BELONGS TO GOD. For him, there is no separation. He ignores man-made boundaries and traditions. Consequently he is free to enter into a conversation, a communion, with a woman who is also a Samaritan, “the Woman at the Well”.
To fully understand this story, we must also appreciate how scarce water is in the desert. People are literally dying of thirst. ‘Water’, as it is used in scripture, is not only a metaphor, translated from Aramaic as “Life Giving Truth,” but it is a very real source of life. The term “living water”, translated by Rev. Dr. Rocco Errico, refers to water that constantly flows, never becoming stagnant or polluted. ‘Life Giving Water’ is constancy and purity and is miraculous.
Living Water or ‘Life Giving Sustaining Truth’ is what Jesus came to offer the Samaritan woman. And the woman heard him and understood. She told him that she believed him and she believed he was a prophet. In the time of Jesus, a prophet was one who revealed hidden mysteries. As today, (although we don’t speak of prophets and we have many), a prophet was also someone who acts as a reformer or statesmen, someone to whom the people look to for guidance to peace and prosperity. The veracity of a prophet was judged by the truth of their predications. So when Jesus tells the woman the truth about her husbands, he is showing her that he is a prophet and has the power to see. Note that Jesus sees her, he knows her AND he does not judge her. Consequently, the woman trusts that Jesus will be able to guide her, and asks him where she is to pray. Which temple is the right temple.
How many times have you and I been afraid to make a mistake? How fearful that we would do IT wrong? Whatever IT was. How often are we afraid that we will not get our desired results; afraid of losing our health, our comfort, our money, our loved one, the fear of not being acceptable to our God? How many times have we prayed, “Thy will be done” and wondered, “Is this God’s will? How many times have we questioned ourselves and others, “How will I know God’s will for me?”
Again, Jesus takes away all the barriers. “There is no right place”, he says, I have come to tell you that God is everywhere, in all things, in all moments. God can be spoken to DIRECTLY and EVERYWHERE. This is the God of Israel, the God that has no name, (no name and every name) the God of Spirit; the One God that is everywhere.
Why was that message so important 2000 years ago? Why does it continue to be relevant? As in many of our religions today, the ONE God that Abraham had followed, the God of the Spirit, had like any other idol, been put on a pedestal. The One God had become a god who lived in a particular temple; in a particular ark. People not only brought offerings and sacrifices but they had to belong to the right temple and bring the right sacrifice at the right time to the right people. Rituals had become very complex and only the right people could carry them out. One had to be born into the right group, the right tribe and the right cast of that tribe to have the right status to talk to God. Jesus called us to RE-Member that our Spiritual Father, our One God, is NOT a tribal God. God does not belong to a people, or a city, or a country as the idols did. Jesus came to talk about a UNIVERSAL God. He said God was of the Spirit, omnipresent, omnipotent; NOT a God that needs US TO FEED HIM, TO GIVE HIM LIFE, but God of which we are all the sons and daughters, all a part, and WHO FEEDS AND NURTURES US AND FLOWS THROUGH US AND WHOSE CONSTANCY as the living water, GIVES US LIFE. And there is nothing ELSE that is real. God is present in man, woman, child, Samaritan, Jew Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Wiccan, Pagan. God of the Spirit envelops all that is living.
In the Gospel of the Woman at the Well, Jesus says, “God is Spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman tells Jesus that they were expecting a messiah, someone to come and tell them the truth and for the first time, Jesus acknowledges that he is the one who has come to do that. He says to a Samaritan, considered a non Jew, and a woman, that he has come to bring salvation. She goes and tells the people and they come to hear the ‘Good News’. Jesus preaches salvation…and what is salvation? SALVATION IS SPIRITUAL AND MENTAL FREEDOM. Salvation removes the BARRIERS to faith, to love and it is “the truth that shall set us free”.
We continue live in a society today we are taught to be special, entitled, and distracted from our innermost hearing. Sooner or later we find that we fail our materialistic goals and even when we don’t, we are still disillusioned. We are told how we should look, what we must own, to be acceptable, to keep us safe, to keep us protected, to keep us happy. We are finding out, it all falls short and that nothing is permanent , secure or real outside of our inner connectedness with goodness, our ability to care, our connection to God, whatever name we call this source of our being. The only permanence is in the here and now; the only choice is in the way we perceive it.
Disasters like Flight 800, the Oklahoma City bombing , September 11th, floods and fires are teaching us. When these things happen, for just a moment we want to respond without asking about race or ethnicity. For just a moment in the midst of our horror, we care without boundaries.
I worked for TWA when Flight 800 went into the Long Island Sound. I was at the Ramada Hotel as the families of those on board arrived to await the news of their loved ones. During the aftermath, friends would call to say “how awful it must have been”for me to experience that pain and suffering. Yes, there was pain and suffering, but faced with disaster, when nothing material mattered…nothing material had value, the caring and the compassion for one human being for another was so palpable, I felt as though I was living in the heart of God. It was what Jesus described as the “vibrant flow of intimacy with our uncreated source, from whom all Goodness flows.” And then the politicians and the lawyers came.
I believe that it is the Universal God Source and Its availability and OUR ability to be in communion with it is what Jesus came to demonstrate for us. Love and Compassion, IS the source; the root, of who and what we are. We, the children of God, One Being, connected, without exception. And it is only in knowing this, that our freedom lies. Jesus died because he was a danger to a social and political system. Because his freedom was rooted, not in the materialism of this world but in the LOVE inherent in Universal Oneness, he was able to transcends everything, even the crucifixion.
The Bible is a Living Bible because our fears, doubts and struggles are the fears, doubts and struggles of all people, from the beginning of time. The external struggles are only a manifestation of the internal struggles. The ‘Woman at the Well’, has some aspect of us all. She asks questions that I would ask and have asked, in the past: “Why is he coming to me?”. “Does he know who I really am?” Can I truly believe something this wonderful?” “Will I be adequate to receive this blessing?” And Jesus responds, “I know who you are….and the living water is your birthright…You are a child of God.”
We who have been called to know the Christ are so very fortunate. However we must continually ask ourselves, “are we open to receiving as well as to giving as the living flow of water must be?” Have we made barriers, conditions, dams, so that our lands have become dry and barren? Do we forget what it means that Christ came to the Samaritan woman, the socially unacceptable, the different culture, a different accent, one who practiced a different ritual, and that it was she who believed and brought the word of Jesus throughout the land and the myriads came and followed.
We who are called to be Christian, followers of the example of Jesus the Christ…let us commit to do something today to honor that Christ, that anointing, in everyone, especially those that we believe are different, separate from us. We will not be at peace until we are one with our brothers and sisters, until we are one with the Father. Our salvation will come when we can say as Jesus did to John, “How can you not know the father if you know me?” Am I not transparent, that you can see the love of God through Me?
The story of the Woman at the Well is a Salvation Story. Salvation for us, for our neighbors and our neighbor’s neighbors. Tich Nach Han said, “Don’t want peace, be peace”. In the same vein I challenge you, Don’t wait for Christ…Be the Christ…Be the forgiveness..Be the Love…Be the Living Water that flows and heals because it does not judge. In Him, With Him and Through Him, in the Unity of the Holy Spirit, One God Forever and Ever… Amen