She came to my office to talk, but by the time she sat down, she was in tears. When she was finally able to speak a few words, this is what she said: "Nobody knows me, pastor. Nobody gets me."
She poured out dark and painful stories of her past. For years she had had a drug habit and had turned to prostitution to make a living. Now she had conquered her drug habit and had a legitimate job. She was deeply ashamed of her past, and she told no one. She guarded her dark secret and prayed no one would ever know.
She feared that if she revealed her secret, she would be rejected by the new friends she had made. After all, none of them really knew her. None of them really "got her," as she put it.
People like her are not rare. They make up most of the world. The Woman at the Well is the story of most of us. The dark side of our hearts is bigger than anyone knows. No one would understand if we told them. No one really "gets" us.
Male or female, rich or poor, prominent in the community or unheard of, this condition is no respecter of persons. Jesus met just such a person at a place called Jacob's well, located deep in the territory of Samaria. His encounter with her was so poignant that when John sat down to record the events which seemed to him to make up the essence of Jesus' life, he included this story.
When the woman came to the well, Jesus was sitting beside it, tired from his morning's travel. He had nothing with which to draw water, and so he asked her to draw him a drink. She was stunned. She asked how he, a Jew, could ask water from her, a Samaritan woman. After all, Jews and Samaritans shared nothing in common. It was as though Jesus had lived in the days of black-white segregation as a white boy and had asked to drink from the "colored" water fountain. Later, John tells us that his disciples were astonished that he was talking to a woman, Samaritan or not.
Jesus should not have understood this woman at all. They shared nothing in common. But listen, and be amazed!
He turned the conversation from the mundane (a drink of water) to the spiritual. "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" (John 4:10, RSV). She wondered what he was talking about. In the common parlance of their land, living water meant flowing water as in a river, not the well water they were discussing. But Jesus told her that his living water was different. He said the living water he would give would come "gushing up into eternal life" (John 4:14, RSV). She had been drinking water that satisfied only for a time, but Jesus spoke of water that would never again leave her thirsty.
She asked for this water; and in the conversation that followed, he peeled back the layers of her life right before her eyes. Moving boldly into the secret places of her heart, he told her that she had had five husbands and was now living with a man not her husband. When at last she left him, she went into the city and told anyone who would listen, "Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done" (John 4:29).
He knew! He understood! He got her! He saw her sin, calling it what it was, and he loved her anyway. He offered her hope. He gave her living water.
This is the simple point that I believe John was making when he recorded this story. We are like this woman. John knew. Jesus had appeared in his path one day and changed him. John was holding up a mirror for us, helping us to see that we stumble along through life, wrestling with demons and burdened with guilt and unable to get free of our pasts. Most of the time, we keep this suppressed, and we don't have to deal with it. But, then, Jesus suddenly appears in our pathway. He looks into our souls uninvited, and he tells us everything we ever did. He knows. He "gets" us. And, still, he loves us.
If we open our lives to this encounter with the Master, then he gives us living water. The wells from which we have been drinking lose their luster, and we realize that they give only water that satisfies for a time. We have been chasing the whirlwind, as Ecclesiastes said. We have been seeking salvation in a bottle or a needle or an affair or a job or the esteem of our community, or any of a thousand other things, and none of them have satisfied. They have left us empty, yearning for something more, but not knowing quite where to find it.
A gospel song says it pretty well:
Like the woman at the well I was seeking
For things that could not satisfy;
But then I heard my Savior speaking:
"Draw from the well that never shall run dry."
But Jesus sees and knows, and in the very fact that he sees our hearts, we begin to experience the power of living water. When we wash in it, it cleanses us. When we drink it, it slakes our thirst. When we draw it, there is always more.
When God looks into our souls, sees our dark side, divines our secrets, knows our guilt, discerns our motivations, and loves us anyway, is this not the living water that renews us and remakes us? When God sees how we are dying inside and gives us water that flows from a Source eternal in the heavens, when he tells us everything we have ever done, is this not living water to our dried out souls?
And one more thing about this woman: After Jesus' vision had pierced her soul, she told the people of her town: "Come, and see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ? He told me everything about myself. Can he be the Messiah?" (John 4:29)
She is asking the question around which this whole story revolves. If he can know us so completely, if he can give us living water, then can he be the Messiah?
Jesus leaves no doubt. "I who speak to you am he" (John 4:26). Family therapist David Mace once said that strong relationships are not built on common interests or perspectives on life. They are built on self-revelation. Enduring relationships grow when two people are able to reveal themselves to one another.
He was right. Several years ago I remember encountering an old friend whom I had not seen in many years. We had a serious conversation about all that had happened to us in the intervening years, and he told me about some things he had done that even he did not understand. I said to him, "You know, I think I understand. I think I get you." And he replied, "I believe you do. I believe you do." That is the stuff that makes for lasting relationships.
And that is exactly what happened at Jacob's well. Jesus revealed himself to the woman whom he found there, and a Samaritan sinner was able to begin a new relationship, and eternal relationship. When he meets us on the road of our lives, he opens the way for us to begin such a relationship ourselves. This relationship is the living water. He was not offering free advice to this woman. He was offering himself.
His affirmation of who he was contains no shade of equivocation. The living water has no earthly source. It comes from God. That is why it is "living" water. That is why it slakes the thirst and cleanses the heart. That is why it changed the life of that woman who came to my office. It comes from God.
In a gospel song is a prayer:
Fill my cup Lord, I lift it up, Lord!
Come and quench this thirsting of my soul;
Bread of heaven, Feed me till I want no more--
Fill my cup, fill it up and make me whole!
If you can pray this prayer, you will have living water. You will have refreshment for your soul, cooling for the heat of your journey, life for your veins. You will have all that living water gives, and you shall be satisfied.
In the end this is not simply a story about Jesus "getting" a woman he met at Jacob's Well--as in understanding her. It is a story about Jesus "getting" her as his child. He wants to get us all as his children. Will he get our trust? Will he get our discipleship? Will he get us to be his followers, to drink of this living water?
Jesus himself could not answer that question. Only you can. How will you answer? Will he get YOU? That is really what the story is about.
Please join me in prayer. Dear God, in a world where so many people do not get us, where so much of our darkness is hidden, we pray give us living water and give us grace to give ourselves to you. In the name of Christ our Lord we pray. Amen.