Saturday, 18 March 2017

The Woman at the Well - What do Pretty Girls Do?

(John 4:5-42)

Two people out of place.

The respectable Jewish preacher - in a Samaritan town. Enemy territory. Where the Pax Romana holds but that doesn't mean that the locals have to welcome one of the other lot.

And the woman who comes down to the well to draw water in the heat of the day. A woman who has a fairly unconventional sexual history, apparently. We're not told whether she's buried the five husbands or whether that's a series of desertions and / or divorces. You're guessing she's not so young any more - memories of the Kirsty MacColl song "What do Pretty Girls Do" when you've lost your looks and the townsfolk don't think you're so glamorous and Mr Number 6 doesn't want to tie himself down with the woman who's seen off so many others. And "Everybody's happy when she isn't at the door She sends out invitations to everyone, they don't come. And the phone ain't ringing for her now."

So she's down the well at lunchtime, in the heat of a Samaritan day whereas conventional women would be going down at dusk or first thing in the morning. Maybe the Sychar townswomen's guild don't want to be seen hanging around with the woman whose life has apparently consisted of a series of attempts to find happiness through the frankly unreliable medium of a bunch of blokes.

And Jesus at no point tells her off for anything. This woman - half outcast, from a foreign, heretical race - he shouldn't be looking at her. He shouldn't be asking her to do him a favour - conceding her a position of advantage over him.

But Jesus can see a deep yearning in her. The well is deep - the countryside is dry and the water table's low. When she wants water she's got to work hard for it - reach down to find it where it can't be seen. There's an analogy - when she's wanted happiness, fulfilment in life - she's looked for it through all these men. And they're let downs. They either leave or die or won't commit. And she's lonely at the end of it all.

And Jesus isn't saying that human sexual love is bad. He's saying that it's not where she will find real fulfilment. That complete fulfilment comes from knowing God - being in relationship with Jesus - being filled with the living waters of the Holy Spirit. Not a still well in a parched landscape, but living waters. A spring - which flows and is cool and is constantly refreshed.

She knows that this young Jewish man is making an offer - telling her something deep about herself - hitting nails on the head. So she tries to turn the conversation to theology. Good thing about that kind of theology - "where do you reckon the Temple ought to be.... what do you think about the old Messiah then, eh?"

If you're going to try and turn the conversation to the Messiah as a way of getting out of an awkward discussion, it's best not to do that when you're having that discussion with the Messiah himself. I mean, what are the chances? But she finds out that is who she's talking to. The hope of Jew and Samaritan alike - the Messiah who comes to give true life. Life that is full now, and alive forever.

The woman knows who Jesus is, and she's turned around. Instead of the lonely reject, she's the one who brings the Good News to her town. The disciples have seen something new. They now know that God's love goes beyond race, and gender, and keeping the community rules on how women should behave. There's something more important than any of these - something more lasting than these. A deep-flowing, never-ending flow of God's blessing - which spreads through Jesus to the woman and out to her community. And the promise of the love of God, which flows forever.


  1. No comment really, just a plus one.

  2. Nail on the head, Archdruid. Thank you xxxxx

  3. I like this except for the portrayal of the Samaritan woman at the well as some sort of liberated, 20th century raging femme fatale. I would equate her status more as a victim of sexual trafficking. Without the ability to support herself in the economy of 1st century Palestine she is handed on to men who no longer want her, shameful for the women in those patriarchal societies but I feel she was more sinned against than sinning.


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