The Well Woman

October 2015

She wasn’t going to see anybody. No small talk, no averting her eyes, no flinching at the hot limestone edge of the well. It was the quiet hour. She always came during the quiet hour. She breathed it in — the simple beauty of drawing water. A simple thing in a tight, rough braid of a life. Until him.

He told her everything. Everything she ever did. Well, not everything, just the things that mattered. The Things that had blindsided, crippled, and destroyed great swaths of her life. The things that had gone on her record — both the record kept by outsiders and the record she kept within her own heart. The things that made her come with her jug alone.

Yes, she had tried to change the subject, and held her back straight as the rabbi searched her eyes. But the New Thing that started in her heart from the first sound of his voice began unfurling and wouldn’t be done until she had unfurled her very self with news for the whole town to hear: “He told me everything I ever did! Could this be the Messiah?”

In John Chapter 4, I see this woman clearly. I see myself.

She is a woman with a burden of insecurity and shame, who avoids certain, pretty crowds because if they saw her, really saw her, they would whisper. Who likes to carry her own jug, thank you very much, and hold her head steady with the dignity she manufactures for herself. Who likes to change the subject.

I’m not sure what the timbre of Jesus’ voice was when he said to this woman, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.”

It couldn’t have been arctic, could it? I try to imagine his sound: the matter-of-factness mixed with alien tenderness. The silent roar of truth hitting her ears — delicately, like a feather. Whatever his angle of head, squint of eyelids against sun, shrug of shoulder, or flick of finger, Jesus’ composite message was just what she needed to hear.

What I need to hear.

“I know you. I know Everything. And I want to talk to you about it.”

The great theologian Charles Spurgeon observed:
“Christ has different doors for entering into different people’s souls. Into some, he enters by the understanding; into many, by the affections. To some, he comes by the way of fear; to another, by that of hope; and to this woman he came by way of her conscience.” (Spurgeon)
Jesus entered the woman’s conscience by making her cons-cious of her story in a new way. He gave voice to it. She could hear her story, finally, from someone Real instead of from the incessant loop inside her brain and the imagined dark-corner conversations held by pretty people. It was a hard story to hear. But the story itself, in this moment, wasn’t nearly as important as the storyteller.

So she left her water jug there. Leaned it right up against the limestone well, right next to his feet. It wasn’t about her reputation anymore, or about how high she held her chin. This day, this moment, was about this would-be Messiah who could tell you your story, even if it was a sad story. And people needed to know.

All over town, she was saying: “This man told me everything I ever did! Could he be the Messiah?”

How beautiful to be released from the starring role in your story. No more the tragic hero, the fallen angel.

How restful to be met on purpose by a well, just when you thought you were all on your own.

How would her story end? We don’t know. Would there be more failure? Some mixture of victory and pain, like in most lives? Would she able to leave this mystery man, this not-her-husband? It doesn’t seem to matter to the gospel writer. What mattered, what earned precious real estate in the annals of Scripture, is that one day, a quiet, hiding woman got a glimpse of her ultimate redemption and took to the streets — without stopping to ask.


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