John 4:1-15 is the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus pauses on his journey back to Galilee. He and his followers have taken a route through Samaria, considered by their pious countryman to be unclean, not because of the water but because of the people who live there.
Jesus breaks several religious, gender and social taboos by asking a Samaritan woman for a cup of water. She is startled that a Jewish man such as he would ask her, an untouchable, for a cup of water.
Then he goes all mystical on her.
"Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink the water that I will give them will never be thirsty," he tells the woman.
She responds by asking for his water "so that I may never be thirsty."
I am struck by many things in the story, and many have preached it from many directions. It is a declaration of faith in Jesus as the "living water." It is a story of a woman who sees him for who he is and responds by following. That may be lesson enough from this story.
But there is more.
The story of the Samaritan woman at the well is a story of Jesus reaching the untouchable, the one who others consider foreign and unworthy for a holy man to reach. She is the wrong gender, the wrong religion, the wrong ethnicity. That makes the story a clarion call to the followers of Jesus to reach the outsiders, the untouchables, the lowliest in our own country. Who are the untouchables for us? The homeless? The alien? The poor? Who are the religious untouchables in our land? Jesus reminds us that the water of his living well connects us all together. If we really are followers of Jesus, we will go to the well and find the people who live there and invite them to have a cup of water.
John's Gospel is also a mystical gospel, and it can be heard as a story of the inner life, not just the outer life. The entire gospel can be heard as a pathway for how Jesus draws people to a deepening awareness of their union with God, and a deepening awareness of what they need to change inside themselves to be living in the fullness of their life with God.
The story of the Samaritan woman at the well invites each of us to ask a very hard questions about ourselves: What is untouchable inside each of us? What is poor in ourselves? What inside us is thirsty for the living water?
Art: "Samaritan Woman at the Well," by He Qi.