Water or Prayer? A Reflection on Jesus’ Interaction with the Samaritan Woman

Last winter during a particular cold spell, I noticed a disheveled man walking in my backyard. I quickly went out to see if I could lend him a hand. I was wondering just who he was and what he was doing in my back yard; living in the country I am used to see the occasional bear wander around but not a human!  He greeted me with a rough response, but I was not deterred. I soon discovered that he was the service man delivering the propane to my home that day and he was searching for my propane tank. I led him to the tank location, kicked away the snow with my shoe and lifted the lid; the metal was a numbing cold.

He grumbled and mumbled.

“Can I get you some water perhaps?” I asked as I stood.

“No,” he replied, “it’s just been a bad day.” He lowered his head, avoiding eye contact.

“Can I pray with you?”

“No,” he shook his head.

“O.k., well I’ll be in the house if you change your mind.”

He replied with a grumble and a slight nod then squatted down to survey the area. I don’t know what he was thinking about but judging by his expression I imagine that it was a mixture of ideas regarding his bad day, and the fact that the engineering genius that originally installed our propane tank left much to desire.

As I walked back into the warmth of the house, I thought of the story of Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. Exhausted and hungry, Jesus had sent his disciples away to buy food, then sat down by the well to rest.  John’s fourth chapter notes the time of day to be noon. Imagine the sun radiating down in the hottest part of the day.

Turning His attention to the women who is ready to fill her bucket, He asks for water. We know from John that she “had” many husbands and was likely an outcast. Yet Jesus arrives asking her to serve him a drink! In perfect Jesus style, he crosses cultural boundaries and speaks to a woman by himself; not just any woman, but a Samaritan woman. This was a huge deal in the first century; “for Jews do not associate with Samaritans” (John 4:9b).

He draws her into a conversation that challenges her beliefs and offers her hope. He asks for water but then offers her living water. He discusses her family and tells her of His family-the Father and the Spirit. Although she expresses doubt, He offers a promise and an invitation.

“Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst” (John 4:14a). Oh, dear one, this is also an invitation for you and me. Regardless of our broken vessels, the Spirit can still fill us. He wants to fill us; we only need to RSVP: Yes.

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