THERE’S USUALLY A NEAT LITTLE CIRCULAR WALL in the mind’s eye. Those Jack and Jill early-readers (along with fearful little tales we made up for ourselves) had a way of engraving their illustrations upon our imaginations. Circular, in this case. With a little roof, a winding handle, a wound rope and – though just out of sight, a bucket. A well. All neat and tidy and deep and protected. Hansel and Gretel and Rumpelstiltskin and Little Red Riding Hood all had one too.
Jesus 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’. – John 4.5
Well, the mind’s eye readily envisages that little scene. Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Each exhausted for different but not-so-different “journeying” reasons. Set to fetch a pail of water – from the well Jacob (who “takes by the heel”) once gifted to Joseph (who “adds and increases”), along with a multi-coloured overcoat. But still, the Gospel story doesn’t always quite tell us everything, does it? Not every detail, noon-tide clock-watching notwithstanding. Something’s always – and purposefully – left to prayerful imagination and humility or groundedness.Or, in this case, well-ness! I like to think, by way of example, that Jesus might at the very least have requested a drink with the word “please” or some such. Be that as it may. My imagination went deeper. Wetter. More involved. The wonders of the internet presented me with a delightful little Japanese painting. And wonder upon wonder, what do I see? Neither thirsty sojourner is sitting on a wall around a well. Each encounters the other – one male, prayerfully observant Jew, and one much-married female, prayerfully observant Samaritan – from within a well, without a wall at all.
Here’s an early hint that this well mightn’t be just a provider of water. Here’s a suggestion as to why this well wouldn’t have a wall. Here’s a little parable that might enable any of us, female or male – all of us struggling to love and to be loved, all of us grappling with “honour / shame” issues, all of us hungry for sufficient affirmation to boost our perpetually flagging self-confidence (our egos), all of us having known more than our fair share of partners or husbands or wives, in our imaginations if that was all that was on offer – to stand tall.
Jesus of Nazareth doesn’t keep his distance. Neither does he embark upon a battle of words as to whether Samaritan sacrifices on Mount Gerazim or Jewish offerings on Mount Zion are better pleasing to God. Even his assertion that “salvation comes from the Jews” could refer to Jewish sense of “chosen-ness” which Jesus seems all too willing (already noon, the hour is coming) to apply widely. I wonder, indeed, whether his mentioning the woman’s having “had five husbands” was even strictly “prophetic”. It only requires a bit of imagination, in any of us, to recognise the yearning – the thirst – for love in another. It’s likely, for most if not all of us, that there’ll have been quite a bit of both searching and finding, and searching some more. And ordinarily wells provide only water. We’ll have to keep coming back. And the fetching and the carrying are something that the overburdened woman well imagines she could do without. Living water welling up from within sounds just great to her.
And the name of this living water is love. Again and again Jesus of Nazareth demolishes walls. Ultimately neither Gerazim nor Zion are the end of the story. Divisions between human persons – setting apart nations on the grand scale, and women and men on the domestic, must, along with “prophecies”, cease. It’s about noon. The sun is right overhead. Near. Present to all. Time for a drink and a rest at the well of life. There’s always time for sabbath moments, reviving, reconciling moments, everyday, everywhere, for everyone. No nation is purer than another nation. No man better, purer or higher than a woman. And we all of us get to drink of the living water the moment we realise that it’s absolutely OK – male or female – when it comes to the well of life – to engage in our encounters as equals at the well. Within.
One might call such an encounter a (wholly accessible) holy communion.