In February I got the opportunity to visit the Holy Land on a pilgrimage with my college, St Mellitus. It was such an insightful learning experience for me and I would like to share one of the reflections I had whilst I was there.
Whilst walking around the ancient dusty ruins of Beersheba in Israel, my imagination came alive as I encountered the places of the Bible in real life. Approaching Abraham’s Well, formally known as the ‘Well of the Seven’ and the ‘Well of the Oath’ and mentioned in Genesis 21, 26, our tour guide explained how wells were the place-to-be for local women of that time. It was the social high-point of the day as they gathered there to collect water. It was also a place for arranging marriages as mothers would meet with other well-respected and honourable mothers to find a good match for their daughter or son. Peering down the dry empty well, I imagined the countless years of chatter, laughter, tears, and community formed around this meeting place.
This led me to ponder the story of the Samaritan woman (John 4:1-30) who approached Jacob’s Well alone, at the hottest time of the day, revealing that she didn’t find belonging with the rest of the women in her town who would have drawn water earlier that morning.
If you have ever seen the 2004 movie ‘Mean Girls’, you will appreciate that this story reminds me of the popular girls at school sitting for lunch and saying to the new girl, “You can’t sit with us!”
The Samaritan woman had a colourful history with men and in that time, that made you dishonourable in your community. You were rejected and made an outcast for it. I began to imagine what it must have been like for the Samaritan woman. Did she experience sniggers, judgement and rejection from other women saying, “You can’t draw water with us?” Or perhaps it was much more passive than that: maybe she went unseen as the women from her town were too busy catching up and enjoying time together to notice her.
Both scenarios are relatable today because we all can receive or reject, bless or curse someone. The outcast is never far from our midst: in our communities, churches, schools, and work places. Like the women socialising together at the well, it is so easy to hang out only with the people we like, whom we connect with, who are of our age group and class, and that we can relate to and enjoy spending time with.
Adding to this picture, the Jewish people despised the Samaritans because they believed their claim to God was illegitimate. Yet Jesus, a Jewish man who would have grown up amid this tension, did not let it define his perception of any of the people he met, no matter what society said about them, who they were or what they had done.
Looking at Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman, there is so much we can learn about how to be people who say, “You can sit with us.” To be inclusive and welcoming, with arms wide open to all people, even when it’s costly, time consuming or frustrating at times.
Here are three points I have reflected on whilst looking at the passage.
Jesus met the Samaritan woman where she was.
It’s easy to wait for people to come to us, but as Jesus sat in the uncomfortable heat of the day, I believe personally he went to the place he knew she would be and waited for her there. I think it’s important to be a church that doesn’t expect people to come to us, but to be people who in the daily grind, position ourselves in the uncomfortable places, the places no one wants to go.
Recently a small team of us ran a breakfast club in the Lache Community Centre for people to come and talk about faith and life. We created flyers and spread the word online, and every week we sat and waited, but no-one came. Although we didn’t have the outcome desired, we positioned ourselves to do something different and new in our community. We brought a Christian presence and had some great conversations with the staff there. Nothing is wasted, and we will not know what works until we go, position ourselves and wait to see what God will do.
Jesus knew everything about the Samaritan woman’s life.
I think this teaches us that to listen is a gift. I remember when we had a lecturer speak on the perceptions of people with dementia, he told us that when we encounter someone with dementia, we should not come with our pre-conceived ideas of what dementia is based on, or what we have read or previously experienced. We should encounter that person with a clean slate and enter their rhythm of life. It is so easy to make assumptions based on what we hear about someone, how they speak or dress etc. But imagine if with every person we encountered, we came with that clean slate attitude and asked the question “Who really is this person in front of me?” and took the time to be attentive to, listen to and ready to learn about them.
I love that the first thing that Jesus does is ask the Samaritan woman for a drink of water, because as much as we must give to others, we also have so much to learn and to take from someone else. It isn’t one sided, but a mutual sharing. I think learning the art of listening is the beginning of that.
Jesus liberates the Samaritan woman.
My favourite part of this story is the Samaritan woman’s reaction to her exchange with Jesus in John 4:28-30. It’s as if the chains have fallen off her and every label about her has become unstuck. As she leaves her water jar and boldly approaches the town that once rejected her, she tells the people “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” They heard her, listened and went out to see Jesus.
This is a story of liberation and we can do the same, to bless or curse, to receive or reject. To bless is to say, “I see you; I see who God has made you to be and I call that out. I speak that truth about you and over you.” To receive speaks of inclusion: to open our arms to people and embrace them and to share in the incredible diversity of the body of Christ.
So, let us be people who say, “You can sit with us!” embracing our culture today with a Kingdom culture where no one is an outcast and everyone belongs.