It’s a love story for the ages … boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy loses girl only to gain her back again. The movie, book, or TV show may change but the formula never does … except if you were to go back into the Old Testament. There, while the story is the same, the pattern is a little different. Boy travels to a distant land, boy stops at a well, boy meets girl, water is drawn, love blooms and the courtship rituals begin.
It was at a well that Moses met Zipporah and devoted the next forty years to proving his love to her in the desert of Midian (Exodus 2:15-22). Abraham’s servant traveled to distant Nahor to find a bride for Isaac, and Rebekah, who drew water for him at the well, was godly, gracious and willing to follow God (Genesis 24:9 ff). And of course, it was at a well that Jacob first gazed upon Rachel’s lovely eyes, causing his own to weep with joy – leading him to years and years of devoted service until he could have her hand (Genesis 29:1-14). The well, in Old Testament times, was the place of courtship.
(John 4:5-6) So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.
When John tells us that the place of meeting between Jesus and this Samaritan woman was a well … and Jacob’s Well at that, he is not only offering us a geographical detail, but he is preparing us for a love story! But a love story with some very interesting differences. All the classic requirements are met, although in some strange ways. Jesus has traveled to Samaria, a foreign land with its very different customs. There at a well He encounters not a girl, but a woman, who is seemingly not such a great prize. No innocent maid, she is far too worldly, and experienced. There is a lengthy discussion about the drawing of water. The Samaritan woman runs home to tell the others about this man who has come calling, and everyone gathers around to hear more and celebrate! In the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman, all the elements of an Old Testament love story are present, but with a number of surprising twists.
(7-9) “There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, Give me a drink. (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria? (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)”
Like all good love stories, this one has punch, because the love we see at work is one that is forbidden. Jews and Gentiles were not to mix – indeed they were ancient enemies. The Montague’s and Capulet’s had nothing on these rival families. Samaritans had once known God, but gave him up to worship the gods of five foreign nations. If that were not boundary enough to love, Jewish Rabbi’s) were not to mix with any women publicly … especially alone. Yet none of these cultural barriers is enough to put Jesus off. He boldly presses on with his scandalous conversation.
(16-18) Jesus said to her, Go, call your husband, and come here. The woman answered him, I have no husband. Jesus said to her, You are right in saying, I have no husband; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.
I have no husband, she says … leaving the door open to possibility. Yet to this woman standing before him wanting, perhaps only half-consciously, another marriage proposal; Jesus offers her instead the reality of which marriage is but a figure. Jesus was seeking more than an earthly marriage. This is no ordinary love story … it is an eternal one. The question John would have us ask is whether the Samaritan woman will find in Jesus her true bridegroom. Five husbands had not brought her any personal satisfaction or ultimate meaning. Earthly water could never satisfy her thirst. False religions could not deliver what she needed. Only Jesus could satisfy her longing. Only Jesus could provide living water. Only Jesus could serve as her true bridegroom.
In this way the woman in our story is not only a picture of the Samaritan people, but also of us dear friends. Jesus has come in search of His true love, and how will he find her – the church? A tired old broad, who is seemingly not such a great prize. She has been married to so many of the ideas and practices of this world. Selfishness, greed, bitterness, back-biting, works righteousness, apathy. She has spent her time with each. No innocent maid, she is far too worldly, and experienced. Yet Jesus, the bridegroom, will love her all the same. No, He will love her ALL THE MORE, for in Him she will find her cleansing and true beauty finally revealed. It’s as St Paul wrote in:
(Ephesians 5:25-27) … Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
This is why Jesus came to that well. Not because He needed a drink, but because this woman needed her life to be washed by the living water and the Word of Truth. And it is why Jesus continues to seek us out in love too. Not because He needs our praise or worship, but because we need that same living water. We need our past washed clean. We need a true love that looks beyond our failures.
(10-15) Jesus answered her, If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that 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 have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock. Jesus said to her, Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him 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 will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.
Living water that cleanses from all sin. Living water from the Word made flesh. Living water that gives both the Holy Spirit and Truth. Living water that springs forth to eternal life. This is the gift of God in Christ Jesus our lord in the sacrament of Holy Baptism. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit, in a life lived in courting the King, who first courted us. It is the timeless love story of Jesus and his bride, the church. A story that breaks all the rules, but is perfect none-the-less. And, dear friends, it is the story He wishes to tell you over and over again: (25-26) The woman said to him, I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things. Jesus said to her, I who speak to you am he.