I read recently a contemporary commentary or reflection on this passage here. The comments made by David Lose have revolutionized the way I understand this passage about the woman at the well. I’ve always understood the woman as a sinner as millions of others have as well; because in my experience she has always been preached that way. Preachers talk about her shame and the guilt that she must carry for her actions, that’s why she is out at the well at noon. And it may very well be that she is indeed the ‘kind of sinner’ that we assume her to be, but that information certainly is not given in the text. Jesus doesn’t condemn her, he doesn’t call her a sinner, in fact he does not use that famous phrase of his “go and sin no more”. Maybe the whole purpose of the passage is not repentance, but maybe it’s Jesus saying I understand how life can be…
A couple of weeks ago I was in town at the grocery store, and I ran into someone I know only slightly. We both said hello, I said how are you? Good, was the reply; then the other person was of course obligated to ask me how I am doing to which I also replied good. Why? Well, I believe we both are actually doing well, so it was the right answer. At the same time if the answer was not good, the grocery store and a near stranger is not generally the place or person that you are going to get into the nitty-gritty details of life. And so we say we are fine, or we are good.
The thing is, we don’t just do it with near strangers. We often respond with the words I’m fine, even to those we call friends or family. There are many reasons we do this, but sometimes we say it and the truth is we are anything but fine.
So with my new understanding of this passage, I can almost envision a bit of chit-chat that *could* have happened. Maybe Jesus said to the woman, hello how are you and maybe she said the general I’m fine.
Maybe when Jesus lays out the woman’s past and her current situation the focus is really not condemnation. Maybe Jesus is really saying here, I know your experience, I know you are not fine. Maybe he acknowledges that life has handed this woman difficult circumstances that he knows she can’t bear.
Maybe he is telling her, and us, that even when circumstances are the pits and we might not have anything else to depend on…we can depend on him. He is the living water, the wellspring of life in whom we can place our trust.
There is a little chorus that I learned and the words are so simple, yet profound.
He is all I need, He is all I need, Christ is all I need. (That is it, nothing fancy, just those words repeated. Really though, do we need any more?)