In a sermon from 1956, the 10th anniversary of the Church of the Saviour in Washington, D.C., Gordon Cosby, a co-founder of that church, speaks of the importance of a personal encounter with Jesus such as the Samaritan woman at the well experiences:
â¦I have discoveredâ¦that commitment and discipline are the absolute essentials for any spiritual power. I do not mean a general commitment or general discipline. I mean a definite commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. This is a commitment to a person â not a commitment to a cause. Not a commitment to a principal of love, this is a commitment to a living person and is definite. Not only must it be definite, but it must be a full commitment. When Christ comes to a person he makes a total claim upon his or her life; only a total response is adequate. Not to respond in such a definite way is not to have met the real Christ. IF Christ is not a figment of our imagination, we make a commitment in which we can say with freedom of spirit â âI belong solely to him. He is my life. He is the hope of every dream. He is of absolute significance to me. I want you to know him.â Such a commitment is the essential of any sort of Christian power.
N. Gordon Cosby, Transformed by Grace (Crossroad Books, NY:1999), p.5
So it is when Jesus comes to the Samaritan woman at the well. She is, perhaps, the most broken woman in the whole Gospel story. The very fact that she comes at noon to draw water, rather than in the early morning when the other women of the village would be there, suggests that at the very least she is ashamed. In all likelihood she is the subject of scorn and derision. People look down upon her because of her brokenness in marriage and in relationships.
So here she is trying to avoid being seen, and instead there is someone at the well. Not just someone, but a man. Not just a man but a Jewish man. In that time and place men and women were not to be seen in public together. And Jews and Samaritans had nothing to do with one another.
So she is startled to see him there. She is even more startled that he speaks to her.
Jesus, we are told, is tired. As he addresses this broken, lonely and ashamed woman, he asks, âGive me a drink.â It is an invitation to be at risk. It is an invitation to cross boundaries and ancient taboos. But he is thirsty, and she has a bucket, and there is the well of their mutual ancestor Jacob.
Notice how Jesus does not look down upon her as the others do. He calls no attention to her brokenness. Instead, he acknowledges his own brokenness. He is tired. He is thirsty. Those of us familiar with this story will recognize this thirst of his. Among his very last words on the cross are the words, âI thirst.â
What Jesus is seeking here is someone who shares his thirst. His thirst is a thirst for peace. What he calls Godâs shalom. This shalom is in turn a thirst for justice and healing for all people, especially people like this Samaritan woman. Most of all, Jesus thirsts for dignity and respect for all people. Not some people. Not a lot of people. All people.
This woman knows no respect. But Jesus reaches out to her from his need, not hers. By reaching out to her from his own need he gives her dignity and respectâthere is something she can do for him. Jesus gives her identity and purpose. Suddenly something new, something real, wells up inside of her. It is a new confidence, a new spirit. And from this new spirit her real thirst is revealed. It is a thirst that will not be quenched by the waters at the bottom of Jacobâs well. She thirsts for real life, authentic life, and Jesus gives it to her without cost and without condition.
After some astonishingly frank and assertive conversation, her response is that of total commitment. And why not? She, who had no life and no purpose, but only heartache, pain, and shame, is suddenly given the gift of eternal life with Jesus who is revealed to her as Godâs own anointed one.
The disciples return with lunch and appear horrified that their master Jesus has compromised himself by talking with this woman in broad daylight. Even Nicodemus had the tact to come in the dark of night. The disciples cannot understand the crossing of ancient boundaries, such a departure from the old taboos. While Jesus tries to help the disciples see that this is the kind of life of risk and ministry to which he calls them, the woman runs off, leaving her bucket behind. She does not need it any longer. She has living water welling up inside of her! She is empowered by the simple fact that Jesus trusts her with his needs, his exhaustion and his thirst.
She runs into town and tells everyone of her encounter at the well with the source of true and living water. She says something like, âI belong solely to him. He is my life. He is the hope of every dream. He is of absolute significance to me. I want you to know him too!â
Notice how the townspeople do not trust her testimony. They run to see for themselves. They end up begging Jesus to stay in their village. Jesus stays for two more days. More people come to know Jesus. And it is all because of the Samaritan womanâs willingness to risk talking to the stranger at the well. More people came to Jesus because of her witness. Her word. Her willingness to reveal her brokenness to him. She becomes the first evangelist. Talk about being transformed by grace!
Notice how the townspeople do not even thank her. They do not yet understand what Jesus is saying to them. They cannot see her as he sees her.
Like the Samaritan woman, we all come to the well over and over again to draw water. But do we see the man sitting at the well? Can we hear what he is saying to us? Are we even aware he is speaking to us? Can we feel what it is like to be asked by Jesus to do something for him? Can we see how it is that Jesus does not look down on the poor and broken ones? He does not come with something to give them. He does not come pretending to tell them how to live their lives. He does not say, âHere, I have what you need. Take this and become like me.â
Instead Jesus says that the Samaritan woman has something that he needs. There is something she can do for him. Hearing this news she is liberated from all that weighs her down. He enters into a relationship with her first. He gives her value. He gives her purpose. He gives her new life by simply letting her know there is something she can do for him. We wonder if we might approach the poor and the broken hearted as he does.
This story means to ask us if we can approach others in this way. This story means to ask us if we are willing to reveal our brokenness to these others and to him. Later in the Gospel we will hear the disciples sounding so utterly unlike this woman. They all jockey for positions of power and prestige in his kingdom and in his church. They sound so much like us. And yet, what does he ask them? Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink? He asks us to consider our thirst. He invites us to acknowledge our real thirst so he can give us the living water that wells up inside of us.
As we move steadfastly toward Holy Week we remember that as the story nears its conclusion on the cross, Jesus is still thirsty. He is still thirsty today. And we are that Samaritan woman. We come to the well week after week. Week after week Jesus asks us for a drink. We know the kinds of things for which he thirsts.
Are we ready to bring him a drink? Are we ready to talk with him? Are we ready to reveal our own brokenness to him? Do we make our full commitment to him?
Jesus is sitting before us right now. He is tired, very, very tired. He asks us to give him a drink. What shall we do?