St John 4.5 – 26 (you may also wish to read verses 27 – 42) So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, ‘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.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’ Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’
Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come back.’ The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one who is speaking to you.’
Reflection There are many ways to engage with this story, we could consider the cultural taboos of the day, reflect on gender issues, both then and now, or explore double meanings hidden within the text. This passage has much to reveal to us.
Today, I invite you to explore it from the perspective of encountering the ‘other’ for the first time, which is a central aspect of Pioneer Ministry, and indeed for all disciples of Jesus.
Here are some key moments from this particular story of encountering the ‘other’.
– Jesus deliberately goes to a place he wouldn’t normally go. – Remember, Jesus is the foreigner, the ‘other’ in this story. – Jesus couldn’t have known who he’d meet, so he couldn’t have prepared what to say. – Jesus makes the first move, asks for a drink. It is Jesus who needs something from the ‘other’, not her who needs something from him. – It is the woman who questions their mixing – what are you doing in my space? – This is an ordinary situation, two people chatting over a drink. Yet it is extraordinary, it just wouldn’t happen without boundary crossing intent. – This is not a one way encounter, this is a dialogue. – You have no bucket – the woman challenges Jesus’ competence and understanding. – Jesus is, in effect, invited to speak, he did not force this conversation. – Worship not here or Jerusalem (a new way of worshipping is coming) Old divisions and barriers will be irrelevant. – There is Spirit and Truth, an authenticity in this encounter. – The woman shares her experience of encountering Jesus with others. – Jesus shares his experience of encountering the woman with his disciples and says, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. – Other ‘others’ asked Jesus to stay, because of the woman’s introduction, others want to encounter Jesus too. They then believed due to their own experience, not because of what someone else had said.
How can this story help us to encounter Jesus in the ‘other’?
Pioneers … loiter and listen at the edge, bring people together, live on terms set by those outside the Church, create time and space, nurture mutually vulnerable relationships, befriend, engage and learn from others, unlearn, Church habits, yet weave trails for the Church to follow in order to help to reveal God in people’s lives
Jesus, our Pioneer, we pray we can learn to encounter the ‘other’ and walk in your way.
The Rev’d Mike Walsh, SCM Pioneer Minister, Chorlton, Manchester.