From the ForeWords archives for March 2011:
Here’s a little something different to get started this week: A YouTube clip of Peter, Paul & Mary (one of my favorite groups from back in the day) singing about Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well. This makes a great companion piece to actually reading the Gospel lection from John 4. Of course, while this song doesn’t include all the details of this really long scripture passage, PP&M certainly bring the passion.
It’s easy to overlook passion in scripture. All too often, the only time we hear scripture is when a reader, obviously unfamiliar with the words he or she is saying aloud in worship, trips and stumbles through it. (Let this be at least one thing you take from this blog: before reading scripture aloud, practice practice practice!) The stories in the Bible are filled with intensity, passion, and interest. Sure, there’s other “non-story” parts (geneology lists, in particular), so stick with the stories.
This one about a Samaritan woman is a prime example. We learn during the course of this encounter that the woman has had five husbands and is currently living with a sixth guy, to whom she is not married. Over the centuries this has led to considerable speculation about the “why” behind all that. But we don’t know why, although that certainly hasn’t stopped people from branding her a harlot, a whore, a loose woman, and all manner of other despicable sins. I guess some folks want to turn everything into a morality lesson. That’s not really the point, though.
During the season of Lent this story follows Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus, so some compare-and-contrast is in order. Nicodemus came to Jesus in the middle of the night. Jesus came to this woman at Jacob’s well in the middle of the day. Nicodemus started off his conversation with “We know….” He’d been following the news of this young rabbi/teacher for a while, aware of the miraculous things he’d been doing and the bold teaching he’d shared with growing multitudes. But in the end, Nicodemus left unable to make a leap of faith to full acceptance of Jesus as Messiah.
Having never heard of this stranger (foreigner might be an appropriate way to describe Jesus here, as well, because he was a practicing Jew) the Samaritan woman engaged in a little back and forth over literal and metaphorical meanings of water. But unlike the wise, scholarly, and hesitant Nicodemus, she eventually responded positively and wholeheartedly to Jesus–to the point of leaving her water jug behind as she rushed into town to share the good news that had begun to transform her life. She made the leap from skeptic to evangelist and couldn’t hold her enthusiasm inside–she wanted others to know this joy, too.
This had become for her something far different than a chance story she could later recount: “Oh, an interesting thing happened to me while I was out getting some water at the well.” Instead, it was, “This man knows everything about me! He must be a prophet. Could this be the Messiah? Come and see!” It’s like the difference between a stagnant pool of water and the cool, rushing waters of a mountain stream filled with the spring runoff of snow melt. In other words, there is no comparison. Whatever interesting details in her life’s story had brought her to that moment, from then on she was a new person eager to share the good news of salvation. She had experienced it and, in turn, wanted others to taste of the same living water offered by Jesus. And for those who do, they will never thirst again. Scripture can get inside us, grab hold, help us to know more about us than we’d ever understood before.
The good news of Jesus Christ has the power to free us from our past and empower us for the future. There’s nothing dry, stale, boring, or ordinary about that.
P.S. For those who’d like another passionate YouTube “account” of the woman at the well, check this out: