Our newest sermon series, Jesus and the Other, explores the revolutionary way Jesus interacted with people, breaking the human-constructed barriers of class, race, gender, religion and marginalization due to physical or mental health. The following monologue depicts the perspective of the "other" in such an encounter: the Samaritan Woman at the Well (John 4:1-42).
Written by Rick McKinley
The sun, hot and bright, breaks through the window onto his back. Grey hairs curl on his shoulders and turn silver in the first strokes of daylight. He wakes, lurching to sit up, and grabs sandals and tunic, cursing the hour. I say nothing as he dresses. Waste no powerless words.
“Shalom,” I whisper as he leaves.
I wasn’t always this way, and you knew that. Somehow you knew. Knew that my first marriage was to a man three times my age. I was a girl of fifteen and despite my pleading, my Father arranged it. Mother met my protests with stern rebuke. I should not have complained—after all, he was kind to me. And, later, I realized Father had taken pains to ensure I would be cared for by a good man. I did not love him. I did my duty as wife well, but my heart could never meet with his. When he died I was still just a girl. According to custom, his brother redeemed me as his own. My youth was still intact, my beauty not yet faded, which was a curse to his other wife. He desired me and she knew this. When he left to care for the flock, she took her revenge. Reduced me to a servant girl, made me as low as she could.
This is when I learned to use the only resources I had. My youth and beauty, my body and his desire became my upper hand. And yet, it was not enough. She reigned down in wrath until even he wished only for peace and issued me a certificate of divorce. You knew this too, when you spoke to me, I knew you knew.
Father used to say that Yahweh had blessed me with the face of an angel, but angels were not considered dogs and half breeds as our people were. I knew this from the time I would play with the other girls and boys, and the names we would be called.
“Look at the little dogs!” they would say. “Pretty mongrels,” they would call us.
When I was sent away from my husband’s brothers house, I had no option but to pray for a husband. By this time his wife had spread every vile rumor she could about me throughout the region of Samaria. The women were afraid of me, jealously careful. The men were not interested in legal marriage, but all too eager for a sexual one. Somehow, I found another husband and somehow, again, found myself despised. My youth faded, as did my beauty. My reputation grew wide and far.
My last husband was a good man, but already dying when he took me in. His estate, though meager was already promised to his three sons, never to a wife. But, his kindness was a small respite from my shame.
None of this shocked you. You didn’t recoil in my presence or look at me as an easy prize to be bedded.
That morning, after the man in my bed awoke and left, the sun had risen high and as he scuttled through the streets, I knew he would never ruin his name by running off with me, despite his promises. I would never be worth that much risk. You saw that in my eyes.
I bathed my face and body, and tied my graying hair off my neck. My water jar sat near the door a daily reminder that I was without friend, without husband, without good name. Without hope.
I make daily trips to draw water at the hottest part of the day when I know I’ll be alone. I cannot bear the other women’s stares, their whispers, or worse, their acting as if I don’t even exist. I am alone there with the water and the stifling air that floats up from the well. I don’t mind alone anymore.
You knew I would be there. But, why did you even come? You didn’t have to go through Samaria, it wasn’t on the way to where you were going. You were looking for something, someone, something your father was seeking. What was it?
I could tell you were a Jew even from a distance. You were not a very good Jew
though. I should know, they don’t talk to Samaritans especially the women. Well, they do, but only in the dark places when they are full of drink. But you spoke to me for all to see. Asked me for water. Spoke nonsense of a secret water that meant a person would never thirst again. I called your bluff, Give me this water, I told you, then I won’t have to make this journey in the heat of the day!
I thought you would leave. But you didn’t. I thought you seemed a bit crazy. Your eyes though were the clearest and kindest I’d ever seen. And like I knew them. Like you were lonely too. Homesick almost? Did you miss the Father you spoke of as I missed mine? My father—the only man with whom I’d been safe, undesired. My childhood joy, seemed like a far-off lie.
It was a little much, I must admit, when you talked about your father and God as though they were the same. I was ready to leave then, you know. Of course you know. My water jug was full, and so was my patience for religious riddles. That’s when you said.
“Go call your husband”
I hate that word, its syllables reverberate through my soul. I don’t even remember what I said because you pulled back the curtain on my soul so quickly I stumbled in mind and body. Instantly, I knew you knew everything. My past, my shame, my loss, my sin. You knew with whom I woke that very morning. How did you know? Had you spoken to the other women? I tried to change the subject.
“Which religion is the right religion, ours or the Jews?” I asked. Anything to change the subject.
You answered me, but not as I imagined. You spoke of Spirit and Truth – not ethnic pride, religious debate. Yet, Spirit is so wistful, unanchored—like a trinket any peddler might sell. Truth was so high and lofty and always held behind the gated walls of temples, handled only by Priests and experts in the law - out of reach from the likes of me.
I pretended I knew more than I did—aching to stay and talk and at the same time desperate to take my jug and leave before someone found us talking. Of course, I was too late. Your disciples returned and I saw in their eyes the familiar look. The one everyone had. You knew their thoughts too. But you didn’t care.
That’s when you told me. Why did you tell me? Why would you reveal yourself to me? Of all the people in all of Judea and Samaria, why would I be the one?
“I am the Messiah,” you said.
And the way you said it. Every syllable was wrapped with compassion. Suddenly faint memories of my father’s love seemed to wrap around your words, making them safe and familiar to me. I believed you, I trusted you, because you knew me, not what I had done or become or all that was said about me.
I dropped my jug and I ran like I had not run since I was a girl in the dusty streets. I ran not away from the people who hated me but I ran to them. To the ones who scoffed at the sight of me, and the ones who wanted me in secret. I ran right into the center of our village, and to anyone who would listen I told them about you. I knew they wouldn’t believe me. Who would trust a woman like me?
You. You trusted me with your very self, your deepest identity. You trusted me with your Father’s secrets, and you trusted that in the depths of my being was my voice, my wholeness, and an irreplaceable hope that only you could call forth.
Days later, after the whole village had come out to see you, I realized I had left my jug at the well. That symbol of shame and loneliness, that carrier of a life alone and broken, that noonday companion, I just left it there. I guess you were right, you really did have water I didn’t know about, but I have tasted it Lord, and this heart once so dry and barren thirsts no more.