As we talk about some of the places you meet Jesus, one of my favorite Jesus encounters absolutely must make the list: the woman at the well.
This is a Samaritan woman who has, shall we say, a past, which we become privy to as the conversation develops between she and Jesus. It turns out this woman has been married five times and is now somehow connected to a sixth man who is not her husband. Talk about fodder for gossip! Her life is a mess, one series of bad choices after another, it seems, and what is most distorted in all her story...is love. She's never found a love that is satisfying. So her life is just one big broken mess.
In fact, that's how she's come to encounter Jesus at this particular spot at this particular time on this particular day. Because her life is such a mess, she's reorganized her entire schedule to avoid it, as much as is possible. See, the other women, the women whose lives aren't so much a mess, they draw water in the mornings, before it gets too hot, before the sun and the heat start to evaporate that water right out of the well, and before the rest of the town can deplete the well's water supply. They come and draw water together, as women do, talking about this and that and everything (and probably everyone) else. They're even talking about her. Which is why she's not there in the mornings. She draws her water in the heat of the day, when her broken life won't be so much on display.
It's a common story, really. Most of us prefer to live our lives this way - quietly. Without the commentary of others. We have our secrets, our sins, our brokenness, and we prefer for it not to be on display. Most of us would go out of our way to avoid the prying eyes of others. To avoid the stares. To avoid the whispers. To avoid the gossip.
And most of us would say this is not a great plan for meeting Jesus. He's the most popular Guy in all the world. He draws huge crowds, the very same crowds we're hoping to avoid. He can't go anywhere without people following Him, but we would love to go everywhere alone. The weight of our own stories is too much, and we're better off living them by ourselves. And by ourselves, deliberately alone, purposely avoiding the crowds and the neighbors, where are we ever supposed to meet this Jesus?
By the well, of course.
This woman wanders out to the well, and there is this man. This Jewish man. Sitting alone (the disciples have gone into the town to get food), seeming to be doing nothing at all. Her story has emptied her, but He's not interested in that. He asks her for the one thing she seems to have to give at the moment: water. A simple drink of water. Not a life story. Not a confession. Not a justification. Just water. She has the chance, in just this one moment, to be human. To be normal. To give something that she actually has to give.
It's this moment of ability, of capability, that draws her into a conversation with Jesus. What we have to note here is that she never once degrades herself. She knows her own story, but when Jesus asks for water, she doesn't say, "Oh, sir, I could never give you water. Everything I touch becomes filthy dirty." Most of us who wallow in our own stories would have. But she doesn't. She takes this one quiet moment to feel human again, to just be, apart from her story, for just a breath.
That's what happens when you meet Jesus at the well, when you encounter Him in this place you've deliberately made lonely. He comes and, for a breath, offers you the chance to just be human. And not just human, but meaningfully human. He invites you to connect with Him, to talk, to share, to give freely maybe the one thing that you actually have. It makes you feel human again. It makes you feel, even in your deliberate loneliness, not so lonely after all. There's someone out there....
And this encounter, this brief encounter, it started to re-order this woman's love. It started to put love back in place. She made one profound, deep, real, meaningful connection with another human being, and it changed her. How do we know that it changed her?
Because she took off running toward the town to tell them a story for a change. She met Jesus in this desperately lonely place, then took off running toward community as fast as her legs would carry her.
She made one meaningful connection with a stranger at a well, and she took off running toward more meaningful relationships. And I can't help but think that she stopped going out to the well by herself. I think she probably started going in the mornings, with all the other women, even the women who couldn't stop talking about her. Because she couldn't stop talking about Him. And if we're going to tell stories, then, let's tell them. Let's tell yours. Let's tell mine. Let's tell His.
That's what happens when you meet Jesus at the well.