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The Merry Widow of Samaria

A story for our times.

by Ted Mason

No self-respecting Jewish or Samaritan woman would be seen in public, on her own. Yet here she comes to the village well, in the middle of a hot tiring day, alone.

The signs are obvious: she is not welcome to join the village women at the morning and evening water collections; she has no husband or male relative to accompany her. Our Samaritan woman is a loner, pushed to the fringes of her society.

Her pace slows as she sees the Jew sitting by the well, but her practiced eye and intuition tells her she is safe. She correctly guesses that he belongs to the group of Jews she has just passed on their way into the town. She goes to the well to fill her jar.

The conversation that follows is like a chess game, with each player observing the other to see what advantage can be gained.

"May I have a drink of water?" is Jesus' opening gambit.

"You a Jew, ask me a Samaritan for a drink of water?" is the quick response, emphasising the huge cultural and religious divide between them. Unfazed, Jesus focuses on the Samaritan's own inner need.

"If only you knew the gift of God and who is offering it to you; you would be asking me for a drink of living water." Jesus continues.

"You provide me with water?" is the feisty retort," you have no bucket".

Patiently Jesus contrasts the temporary quenching power of the well water with the permanent effect of the living water he is offering. Soon she is demanding to have access to this living water. Uncomfortable that he is alone with the woman, Jesus asks her to go back to town and return with her husband. Her reply, "I have no husband", takes the conversation onto a new path; her shame and her loneliness and her need as a Samaritan to learn to recognise God anew and worship "in Spirit and Truth".

Their conversation continues until interrupted by the return of the disciples from their shopping trip. The woman uses the distraction to run to the town proclaiming what she has heard and whom she has met. She must have been a powerful advocate because some believe in Jesus immediately, and out they come to the well to see Jesus for themselves . Their need is so great and their sincerity so touching, Jesus agrees to stay with them for two days.

Our Samaritan woman is a most unlikely evangelist, initially. But finding that she is treated with respect, her past acknowledged but not abused, that what she brings to the meeting is immensely valuable, she is able to soften her heart and open her ears and eyes to a world of new possibilities.

What a wonderful paradigm for the work of educators in faith, evangelists, pastoral ministers, and the like engaged in bringing Jesus to others:

  • Meet the people where they are; no matter how wide the cultural, religious or ideological divide.
  • Ask them to provide something from their own resources; everyone has something of value to bring to the conversation. You have to be prepared to listen.
  • Be unfazed at anger, impudence, cultural divides or hostility; your ability to accept what's happening is an indicator of your own freedom.
  • Offer to provide for their deepest needs; with sensitivity, because your are standing on sacred ground.
  • Acknowledge the importance of their history, their journey; everything they have experienced has brought them to this point.
  • Use the differences to find common ground; truth does not reside only with one party.
  • Recognise they have immediate and ongoing needs and stay with them as long as it takes; true love presupposes stamina.
  • Trust them to eventually stand on their own feet. Jesus is the only Saviour in this conversation.

(For the unabridged version see John 4:5-43)

Ted has been involved in pastoral ministry for over 20 years.

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