The Woman at the Well

Denise M. Kohlmeyer

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He watched her slowly trudge up the hill, empty jug in hand. She was bent down, her traditional head covering hiding her head and face. He could only see her eyes. But He already knew her. He knew her loneliness, her despair, her fears, her shame. He knew everything about her.

She came up the hill, empty jug in hand. Her head bent, tired, ashamed, hoping she wouldn't run into anyone she knew. She was thankful that her head covering at least helped to hide her shame — at least outwardly.

She had been through a string of five failed marriages and was now cohabitating with another. She just wanted to be loved, to be accepted. By anyone, at this point. She'd already been shunned by the townspeople, especially the women, who had seemingly signed some silent petition among themselves to avoid her.

That's why at noon, the hottest hour of the day, when she should be resting in the cool comfort of her home, she found herself trudging up the hill to the only well in town. Alone. Sad. Resigned to her fate. But it was worth it to avoid the whispers, the stares, the finger-pointing, the feelings of hurt and rejection.

But today, a stranger was sitting at the well. A man, no less. And a Jewish one at that! She could tell by His Judean-like facial features, with its prominent nose and dark eyes and skin tone, and by the traditional mantle with its dangling tassels (tzitzith) typically worn by Rabbis. He wasn't particularly good-looking, but she didn't care about that. She herself was nothing to look at, being of a mixed race: part Jew, part Assyrian. Her features may be softer, her skin tone lighter, but she was considered a "half-breed" nonetheless — a particularly ugly race to the Jews.

In fact, the Jews purposefully avoided her region, Samaria, choosing instead to take the long way around on their journeys north rather than risk contamination and uncleanness. In a sense, they boycotted the area altogether. That's how much the Jews loathed the Samaritans.

The closer she got to the well the more she could tell for sure that, yes, this man was a full-fledged Hebrew. Likely orthodox, which would make him especially judgmental, maybe even outright hateful towards her. If He knew about her past, especially about her current living arrangements, He might even be tempted to pick up a stone and hurl it at her. She had heard about such instances.

She approached the well with trepidation. But there He sat, watching her. It made her a bit uncomfortable, but she needed water. She had to prepare the evening meal for her and her lover. So, on she trudged.

Reaching the well, she hoisted her jug onto the stone wall, panting from the climb and the hot Mediterranean sun that beat down on her. She needed to catch her breath before she starting hauling up bucket after bucket of water to fill her jug.

She glanced shyly at the stranger from beneath her head covering. He was still watching her and caught her eye. She glanced away quickly.

Then He spoke. "Will you give me a drink?"

She started. Did she hear Him correctly? Was He asking her — a "contaminated" individual, and a woman at that — for a drink of water? Did she dare answer Him, to remind Him of the unwritten rule: Jews didn't associate with Samaritans, much less speak to them?

She took a chance. "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan. How can you ask me for a drink?"

Oh, my sweet child, He thought, you misunderstand. You have been shunned too long. Your mind and heart are too suspicious and full of fear.

His heart went out to her, a heart full of grace and love. And His mind full of truth — life-giving truth — that in just a few minutes, with just a few short sentences, He would speak to her and she would wonderfully cross over from sinner to saint.

"If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water."

She was intrigued, but still perplexed.

"Sir," she said respectfully, "you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?"

So, the conversation was in full swing. All religious, social and gender barriers pushed aside.

"Everyone who drinks this water," He said, pointing to the well he was sitting on, "will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will ever thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

Was her hearing going bad or did He just say He had water that gave eternal life? Whatever! She wanted it. Craved it!

"Sir, give me this water so that I won't get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water." And not feel so alone and rejected, she silently thought. This eternal water would keep her from having to endure the constant insults, stares and shunning. Anything to avoid that!

"Go, call your husband and come back," He said. He knew He had to confront her sin. That was the whole reason he had come into this so-called forbidden region. He had a divine appointment with this woman. After all, she was precisely the type of person for whom He had come to die. But first she needed to hear the truth about her sin-sick soul. And He would expose it lovingly, gently. He knew she'd already been brow-beaten by others.

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Published 7-18-16