Thursday, December 19, 2019

The Woman at the Well

John recounts for us a famous story about Jesus encountering a Samaritan woman at a well. You're probably familiar with it. While traveling along with His disciples, Jesus sits for a spell to rest while everyone else goes into town to get some food and supplies. While He's there, a woman comes to fetch water, away from the crowds that would have gathered at the well at a reasonable hour, and Jesus reveals Himself to her while asking for a drink. 

The question is: where did John get this story?

We get the impression that Jesus was alone with the woman at the well. We could say that in the Scriptures, "alone" very rarely meant truly alone, as there were often servants hanging around to do this or that or the other, but even if we admit that, we must also admit that Jesus is one of those few characters in Scripture who is able to be truly alone - He often seeks solitude and there are many scenes of such the private details of which we are not privy to...because no one but Jesus knows them. So we can't just write this off and say that alone doesn't really mean "alone" because it's Jesus...and it might. 

That leaves us with two possibilities. Either Jesus told John and the other disciples the story about what transpired at the well...or the woman did. 

This is important. No matter what conclusion we come up with here, it's important and it shapes our understanding in a very important way. 

We know that the woman told everyone. The Scriptures say she ran into town and told her story again and again until the whole town had heard it and came out to see Jesus. They had to see for themselves and then many believed, no longer because of what she had said but because of what they had witnessed with their own eyes and ears. So it's entirely possible that this story got back to John from the woman herself. 

But that means that part of John's Gospel was really sourced from...a Samaritan woman. A double-outsider. Someone who shouldn't have had any reason at all to be a source for material about Jesus except that, well, Jesus Himself qualified her to be by His interaction with her. Imagine the scandal of the testimony of a Samaritan. woman. being so crucial to the story John is telling. 

It changes things. 

Maybe, though, John didn't hear it from the woman. Maybe he heard it from Jesus Himself, but this only makes things even trickier. It introduces a couple of possibilities that would have to be held in some kind of tension. 

On the one hand, it means that Jesus is willing to talk about His private moments with an individual. Jesus...blabbed. He took this perfectly quiet moment with a woman whose heart He could change, and He told...everyone. He told everyone about what a sinner she was and a whore and how unfaithful she had been, just so that He could tell them how awesome He was to engage with her and what power He had to change her testimony. 

That's problematic, don't you think? Do you want Jesus telling everyone what happens between you and Him in private? Do you want Him telling others about the intimate details of your prayer and sin? I mean, gosh, if you can't trust Jesus....

At the same time, isn't it amazing that Jesus tells your story in order to tell His? That you're such an integral part of what He's doing that He can't leave you out of it? That He can't wait to share your scene with the world? 

It's pretty cool, right? Your story could be so intertwined with His that unless He tells yours, He can't tell His. Unless He reveals the private moment that you two had, He can't demonstrate the depth of His love. He needs you and your story to complete His. 

Man, I want that kind of relationship with Jesus. I want to be that much a part of His story that it's just not the same without me. I want to believe that. Even if...I think...even if that means He's talking about me. 

And wouldn't you love to hear the way Jesus is talking about you? Because listen to the way He talks about this woman. Such love, such grace, such compassion. I want to hear Him talk about me that way. I think...I need to hear Him talk about me that way. 

Where did John get the story of the woman at the well? If it truly was just her and Jesus, he had to hear it from somewhere...and that somewhere changes the story that we thought we knew in ways we can hardly imagine. 

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