Mandy Sloan McDow: I Drank My Fill on the Rock

I went walking one day down the dusty trail in the mountains. I saw your fence and climbed it down to the ground. On the ground I walked and on the rock there was your still, there was your still.

There's a bar in Alabama it's called The Red Rose I go there when I'm thirsty that's the only reason I suppose.

And there was a man beside me for ten long years I stayed at home, but that man has gone and left me to do some drinking on his own.

I think God is a moonshiner, His skin is gold from the whiskey in his blood; I think in heaven there is a bar room - a place where the men go and forget about their wives.

The sun rises when I'm drinking, and it sets when I'm asleep. And I'll drag my loneliness to the next bar that I see.

I think God is a moonshiner, his skin is gold from the whiskey in his blood; I think in heaven there is a bar room - a place where the men go and forget about their wives.

I know I've had enough of this town there's not much more for me to see. And there's Bibles falling from the skies down here and I don't think God has time for me.

I think God is a moonshiner, his skin is gold from the whiskey in his blood; I think in heaven there is a bar room - a place where the men go and forget about their wives.

I walked to your still and I drank my fill on the rock...

["The Red Rose" - The Everybodyfields]

If I were the woman at the well, I can imagine this song serving as my anthem as I trudged in the heat of the mid-day Sycharian sun to Jacob's well. This is a woman whose life has not been kind to her. I can imagine that the lines on her face betray a sense of age and world-weariness far beyond her years. One day as she heaves her stone water jug onto her tired shoulders, and walks to the source of her refreshment. The jug that she carries is left over as a wedding gift from days gone by - her first marriage? Those beginning days, like the beginning measures of this poem, are filled with hope and simplicity.

But her song quickly becomes melancholy as we learn of the woman's continued search for something to quench her thirst. There was her first husband - a good man, a hard worker whose continued stumbling finally led him out of her life. For a while, there was a man, and for 10 years she stayed at home - nurturing children, cleaning house, cooking. But now, that man is gone and she is left with her children to raise and a secondary husband to stand in. A virus runs through their village. He is gone. A third husband, a cousin of the last one, thinks that he'll do the right thing, but her sorrow and constant thirst are too much for him. He signs a bill of divorce and leaves her. [Deut. 24:1-4, NRSV]

A fourth man, a neighbor too old to consider marriage, succumbs to the bigness of his own heart. Then, a fifth who shares only her love of wine, quickly finds her unfit for a real life together. By now, her children are grown, married and far off. She shares a home with another man, who cares not for her presence or absence. Only that she bring him water each day.

If we are concerned about the view of God that history has created, think of the picture this woman must hold. This woman who worshipped on the mountain can only see God as the great moonshiner in the sky, concocting the finest whiskey to ruin livers and cleanse sinners through the dialysis of reverence and sacrifice. Her god is the great designer of a world in which women like this are brought in just close enough to feel the incredible sting as they are left behind, abandoned, sent away, forgotten about. If heaven is truly a place where the men go and forget about their wives, then what hope is there for her? Her thirst for true love will never be quenched.

Perhaps on this particular day, as the Samaritan woman drags her jug to the well, she has no intent to return back home. After all, the town is filled with critical stares, whispered insults, sympathetic and judgmental faces... "There are Bibles falling from the sky down here." Perhaps on this day of days, she is walking to the well to continue down the road, past "The Red Rose," out of Sychar for good. But instead of finding an abandoned well, she finds a man. A Jewish man. An enemy. Clearly God hasn't got time for her. In her darkest moment, her hour of decision...she is faced not with compassion, but with an adversary. That is, until he deems to speak to her.

"Give me a drink." Something in his tone must have suggested to her that his was not a man of the patriarchal system of submission and dominance. Something in his voice must have sounded kind, compassionate...weary.

She boldly asks, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?" The parenthetical statement in our translation explains that Jews do not have dealings with Samaritans...even in matters of thirst and hunger. But he continues, "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." In Greek, this phrase hydor zon - living water, which has vital power in itself and exerts the same power upon the soul. This is a nice attempt at a definition of something that we can't possibly understand.

So, she responds with clarity, despite the cryptic nature of his statement: "Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get this living water?" How right she is. Her observation that this man can provide something for her without the proper tools is spot-on. She knows that this is no ordinary Jewish person, standing at the well where Jacob met Rachel, where their love bloomed into generation upon generation. Perhaps now the woman gets an understanding of what it is to be loved. After so many attempts at failed love and false devotion, it seems that this chance meeting at the well might become something that would be life-altering.

What Jesus promises next is the end to her toil and wrestling; "Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty." The nights and days that she's spent parched and dry, hungering and thirsting, trudging with the same heavy jug...all of that can come to an end. The shame of leaving her house at noon in the bright of day can cease. Whatever this living water is...she is willing to try it.

"Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water." Sir, whoever you are, rid me of my shame! Please remove my guilt, my struggle, my pain. Please, take this thirst from me; point me down a different path. I no longer want to go to the Red Rose when I'm thirsty.

Here is her confession, her invocation, her willingness to participate in the life that God has created for her. The life that she has led up to now hasn't served her heart well. This is her moment of justification, the awakening of her senses to the presence of God in her life! We are about to witness a full-blown conversion!

But Jesus takes a funny next step: "Go, call your husband, and come back."

Without missing a beat, she offers the proper response: "I have no husband."

Jesus is impressed. He responds to her: "Kalos." But, kalos in this sense doesn't simply mean "true." It means: "beautiful by reason of purity and heart and life, and hence praiseworthy." This has never been the response when she says, "I have no husband." If ever Jesus put someone to the test, it was in this instance. And if ever there were words this woman needed to hear, it was these.

Do you think anyone has ever called her beautiful by reason of purity, or praiseworthy for any reason?! Slowly, Jesus was restoring this woman to her full humanity. He, a foreigner, acknowledging her presence and power as she approached the well. He inquired of her to help him with his own need, offering her the power and the ability to say yes or no. Then he offers her a welcome into the kingdom with a sip of living water. Finally, he sets aside her shame as she offers her simple confession. Without judgment or condemnation, he speaks clearly to her circumstances and acknowledges her humanity and dignity in the midst of it.

In turn, we see the moment of conversion come to full fruition. The woman exclaims, "Sir! I see you are a prophet!" She then asks where she is to worship, now that she has come to know the promised one of the Israelites. But Jesus promises her that everyone who worships will do so differently: "The hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeks these to worship him."

But for this woman to worship in spirit and truth...that would require a radical shift in her perception...of herself, of her neighbors, of God Almighty. How could she, a Samaritan, even begin to entertain the idea of worshipping the God of the Israelites in spirit and truth?! The first step is to hop onboard with the rumors she's heard: "I know the Messiah is coming" (who is called Christ.) "When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us."

I have no doubt that Jesus' next statement comes as little surprise to her. After all, this is a woman who has had many dealings with men. And after so many rounds of proposals, or at least indifferent resignation, she's decided to spend the next part of her life with one man or another, few things surprise her in this conversation. But the word that's spoken by Jesus is not a half-hearted or well-meaning promise of companionship. The word that's spoken by Jesus is not an invitation to join him at temple next week. The word spoken by Jesus is the Word made flesh, and dwelling among us: "I am, the one who is speaking to you."

These words are full of spirit and truth - the truth - of the Gospel, of God's love, of grace and acceptance. With this single utterance, Jesus redeems this woman without gimmicky or empty promises. He turns society as she knows it on its head and restores her to the beloved community. The disciples' return doesn't do anything but confirm that something other-worldly has happened here; "no one said, 'What do you want?' or 'Why are you speaking with her?'" (v. 27)

The power of spirit and truth sends the woman back to her village - running with her head held high, her useless water jug left behind. She looks her neighbors in the eye and says, "Come and see a man who told me everything I've ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?" And, for some reason, they followed...

With a word, spoken in spirit and truth, the woman is bold enough to shout her prayers of thanksgiving and confession to those who have hurt her, shunned her, ignored and upset her. Now that the Word has been made flesh and is dwelling among them at their own well, something is different!

Her moment of justification cannot pass her by without her need to share it with all whom she knows, and she shouts with confidence: "Come and see a man who told me everything I've ever done! And he called me "beautiful by reason of purity of heart and life, and praiseworthy! He called me true! Come see a man who has quenched my thirst! Come see a man who looked into my eyes and into my heart and said that I am pure. He saw everything I've ever done and called it beautiful."

A word, spoken in spirit and truth, took away her shame.

A word, spoken in spirit and truth, restored her to her community.

A word, spoken in spirit and truth, quenched her thirst for true love.

I walked to your still and I drank my fill on the rock...