“The woman at the well” is an unnamed, yet significant figure in the gospels. Her story is found in John's gospel, chapter 4. Today I realized something about this story that I hadn’t noticed previously. Before I get to that, let me review this famed interaction.
Jesus passed through Samaria one day. It seems that the divine purpose behind this was to meet this particular woman. Jesus spoke with her while seated near a well, and used the opportunity to tell her that he possessed “living water” unlike anything else she would ever drink. Contrasting this with well water, Jesus said, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."
This intrigued the woman, because it seemed that drawing water from the well was a thankless and difficult task. Yet Jesus was trying to convey to her that he was not speaking about H2O but about the Holy Spirit.
So Jesus said to her, purposefully, “Go, call your husband, and come here.”
The woman said, “I have no husband.”
Jesus said, that’s right, in fact “you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband.”
In the ancient world this was a source of tremendous shame. She was either widowed or divorced five times, and has now given up on the idea of marriage altogether. Furthermore, she knew her current relationship was not within God’s will for her. There is no doubt that Jesus is trying to tease out of her some honesty, some admission of need, some sort of cry for help…some repentance.
But what does she do? She changes the subject! She responds: "Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship."
In other words, she is willing to speak about religion, but not about her own life.
Jesus proceeds to speak to her about religion, but continues to make it personal. And then, in the middle of the conversation, the disciples show up. The text reads, "Just then his disciples came back. So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 'Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?'"
What a convenient distraction! The disciples show up, and she takes off. In doing so, she looks pretty good by our standards – she is off telling others about Jesus. In fact, the townsfolk get pretty excited about Jesus and there’s a little bit of a spiritual awakening. It would be easy to think that this woman’s heart was truly changed, but the text never says that.
So here’s what I never noticed before: we never learn what happened to the woman at the well. We know she didn’t want to discuss her personal life with Jesus. We know she changed the subject. We know she became an evangelist of sorts, bringing others to Jesus. But we never learn whether she was ever willing to drop her guard and accept the fact that she needed living water, that she needed salvation, that she needed Jesus.
Did this woman truly open herself up to the Savior? Or did she become just another religious person on the landscape? Did she remain religiously curious, or did she receive Jesus as the Savior and the fountain of living water?
Was she willing to admit her need... or was she just happy for the distraction?