Gospel Story of the Week
Jesus and the Woman at the Well (John 4:1 – 42)
“Give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” (John 4:15)
Early in the story, the Samaritan woman is resistant and combative. She tries to keep herself a safe distance from the stranger. When she asks Jesus for the water, her stance shifts from resistance to openness for the first time. Even though the woman has not yet grasped the true nature of the living water, she is intrigued. She is a long way from understanding what Jesus is talking about, but she has opened the door and admitted her thirst.
The vulnerability of that admission gives Jesus the room he needs to work. As soon as the woman acknowledges her thirst and asks Jesus for living water, he makes a surprising request: “Go, call your husband and come back” (John 4:16). He is not changing the subject; he is going to the heart of her deeper thirst. The woman is desperate for a love that will last, and she has failed in every attempt to achieve it. This is the broken place in her life, the place where she is most vulnerable, the place where she is desperate for healing.
When we confront the experience of being wounded, it is tempting to respond like the Samaritan woman and try to deny it. She denies she has a husband to hide her wound and ignore her deeper thirst. My childhood family taught me the same approach. We denied that my father had a drinking problem, and we denied that his drinking hurt us.
It is easy to rationalize that denial is the best approach. Why would the woman get into all that messy stuff about husbands with a stranger? Why would my family subject itself to the kind of embarrassment that facing my father’s drinking would entail? Denial is inviting, and it may even work – for a while. It isn’t long, however, before the truths that have been hidden come back to haunt us. Like a high-interest loan, the payments get bigger and bigger. As time passes, the energy required to maintain the denial increases; the cost of pretending not to see the wound escalates.
As the story unfolds, the Samaritan woman chooses to move beyond denial and open herself to redemption. It is the compelling presence of Jesus that gave the courage to risk making a different choice. His revelation that he knew everything about her meant she no longer had anything to hide. Her experience of this unique stranger’s deep and unconditional love meant that she no longer had any need to hide it. Finding herself in the safety of an unexplained intimacy, she acknowledged that she was wounded and gave the stranger the room to become a redeeming force in their life.
I struggle with this kind of vulnerability and self-revelation. My fear of abandonment causes me to resist being open and candid about who I am. I am still afraid of rejection. As a result, my tendency is to try to project an idealized self-image – a cleaned up, no-zits version. When I have my choice of self-portraits, I select the idealized one in soft focus so my flaws won’t show. This struggle with admitting vulnerability limits my ability to build an intimate relationship – even with my family and friends. If I follow my instinct and resist letting them in on my struggle, I cut myself off from the love and support that they provide. I am like the woman at the well: unable to imagine that the stranger – or anyone else – could know all about me and not abandon me.
The word intimacy comes from the Latin phrase in timore. Its literal meaning is “into the fear.” When we are on the verge of an intimate encounter, we are afraid. We face a choice: to enter into the encounter in spite of our fear or to run away. Every profound encounter – from a teenager’s first date to Moses’ encounter with the burning bush – brings us to the point of making this choice. The woman at the well faced this choice in responding to the stranger. I face it in deciding whether to admit my vulnerability or maintain my denial. All the profound mysteries of life – making friends, falling in love, facing death, experiencing God – involve this choice between safety and vulnerability. Our Lenten journey calls us to embrace the way of redemption and move into this fear.
Questions to Ponder
- As you confront being wounded, what is your response? Denial, openness, what?
- What surprise encounters have you experienced that opened you to the healing and redeeming power of God?
- What experiences have you had of moving “into the fear?” What was the experience like for you?
Invitation to Prayer
Jesus, living water, in my thirst I turn to you.
Jesus, living water, thanks for those who love me with your redemptive love – especially those who continue to love me even when I fail to return their love. Whether they are strangers or lifelong friends, I am grateful for the way they embody your redeeming love. Help me open myself to those who express your love, let go of my fear and resistance and surrender to the transforming power of love. In my thirst, I turn to you.
Jesus, living water, in my thirst I turn to you.