Have you ever met a person who made a more powerful impact on you than anyone else? A person’s presence, character, voice, conversation can act as a catalyst changing the course of our career, our mind and future. This, I believe, is what happened during the interview between Jesus and a nameless woman at Jacob’s well -though she remains anonymous. There are features which strike me as significant and appropriate for our present age.
The winsome humanity of Jesus. Doctrinal statements and theological debates wanting to emphasize his divine nature have blurred our image of Jesus as a human being. The gospel accounts contain indicators of his human persona; wittiness, friendliness, sadness, tears, anger, surprise, disappointment, mental alertness and keen observation. In this incident he is tired and thirsty. The distance he had walked in the heat of the day had left him worn out. Though sitting as someone exhausted his bearing impressed her. Weariness was evident in his face, but there was a gentleness in his voice accompanied by a kindness in his eyes. Sensitive to her feminine prowess while detecting her alienation he addressed her with empathy, respecting her dignity as a human being. They would never meet again. How we treat a stranger and the first impressions we create may have a significant outcome long after we have left. A winsome, friendly, warm-hearted Christian can be an impressive witness when we treat the other person as a human being.
The importance of human relationships. Jews had no dealings with Samaritans. The antagonism, even hatred, had deep historical roots. Racial tension and prejudice was inherited by both parties. Added to this disparity were the Jewish orthodox regulations prohibiting a man, especially a Rabbi, from speaking to a woman in public. Male dominance was accepted as customary. The human boundaries of race, nationality, gender, class were all transcended, you could say ignored, or deliberately crossed by Jesus. They were irrelevant to him. Where others saw a Centurion, a tax-gatherer, a prostitute, a thief, a beggar, a leper, or in this incident, a Samaritan woman, Jesus saw a human being in need of being made whole. How frequently do issues of race, colour, class, nationality and gender complicate and destroy human relationships today, preventing us from seeing the other as a real person with human feelings, needs and aspirations? Their difference poses a threat to us so we prefer no contact and keep our distance. We are interconnected and need one another.
People matter. All discussion about worship, customs, traditions, places of historical importance were, to the mind of Jesus, secondary to human need. Jesus was not sidetracked by other subjects of discussion. Here was a woman with social, sexual, psychological, personal problems who preferred to discuss religious matters rather than deal with her deficiencies. She was living below par. To draw water at mid-day and alone indicated her alienation in the local community. Jesus must have engaged her in more conversation than John records. Her string of broken marriages had stamped her with a reputation for feminine infidelity, emotional instability or psychological imbalance. Driven by loneliness, wanting someone to talk to, attracted to this winsome traveler had she voluntarily unburdened her soul – how else would Jesus know her personal needs and shortcomings? He recognized her personal need and opened the way forward by first asking for her assistance. In our daily routines we meet many strangers and we never know the hunger and desperation that may lie behind their smile. By treading carefully we may discover their need, see their value and perhaps be an agent of God to them. It’s the way we live that counts and may make a connection with others releasing divine possibilities.
The thirst within the human heart. She took his words literally, but Jesus lifted the conversation above the woman’s basic needs. There was a level of living she had never experienced. She had sensed it, but it always eluded her. He knew that beneath the exterior she had dreams, longings and desires for which she has sought satisfaction, but to no avail. No one had spoken to her like Jesus did. She recognized something different in his presence – perhaps the water of life, the happiness she longed for. She had never experienced the generosity of God. Jesus gently leads her to the spring hidden within himself by disclosing his true nature. He is the source of rich living. Augustine saw it, ‘You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless ‘til they find their rest in you’. Our consumer appetites, ambitions, achievements, our innate yearnings, cravings will never satisfy the thirst for life – we all have. His revelation of God, his teaching, his life, his living presence is the fountain from which our thirst can be quenched. In any place or situation, at any moment let the thought of Jesus fill your mind, and I promise you, spiritual refreshment will flow into your life to renew and direct your spirit.