Give me to drink
Women’s Dignity and an Encounter at the Well
Jesus came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there. Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well. It was about noon.
A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” —For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.— Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink, ‘ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where then can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?” Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Jesus said to her, “Go call your husband and come back.” The woman answered and said to him, “I do not have a husband.” Jesus answered her, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ; when he comes, he will tell us everything.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one speaking with you.”
At that moment his disciples returned, and were amazed that he was talking with a woman, but still no one said, “What are you looking for?” or “Why are you talking with her?” The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?” They went out of the town and came to him. Meanwhile, the disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” So the disciples said to one another, “Could someone have brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work. Do you not say, ‘In four months the harvest will be here’? I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest. The reaper is already receiving payment and gathering crops for eternal life, so that the sower and reaper can rejoice together. For here the saying is verified that ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the work, and you are sharing the fruits of their work.”
Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me everything I have done.” When the Samaritans came to him,
they invited him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. Many more began to believe in him because of his word, and they said to the woman, “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”
Human rights begin with the recognition of dignity. This dignity comes from the fact that we are creatures of God, and even more so since we are redeemed creatures. What a gift! What a grace!
This past week, there was a celebration of International Woman’s Day. I was surprised that at one of these celebrations, a transgender Argentinian was recognized. I asked myself: “do women feel honored because a transgender Argentinian was honored by the First Lady?” Is this what the fight for equality has come to mean? It seems a poor substitute.
And so often, the debate is framed poorly. We talk about human rights, when really we are called to respect both men and women because they are created by God. “Man alone is called to share, by knowledge and love, in God’s own life . . . This is the fundamental reason for his dignity. Being in the image of God, the human individual possesses the dignity of a person, who is not just something, but someone” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 356).
Give me to drink
Jesus disarmed the woman at the well by asking her to draw water for him. There is ethnic tension in the scene. Jesus is a Jew, and she is a Samaritan woman. There is male-female tension in the scene. It would be unseemly for a man to be speaking to a woman if she were not his wife.
Jesus does not seem to be bound by ordinary conventions. He breezes through the social complications with ease. After all, he is their Lord and God. Why should he have to abide by their silly little rules? It says so much about Jesus, and it says so much about us. Too often, we get caught up in little spats and become defensive. Instead, we should have hearts that are greater than the situations. This is what happens when Jesus asks her for a drink. He is giving her an excuse to come into contact with him. He knows that this contact will be life-changing.
She begins by trying to be defensive and justify herself. So much of the modern discourse is centered around this – justifying ourselves. If our position is really so evidently right, we do not have to spend so much time defending it. But the truth is that many of the positions being defended are indefensible. And so, instead of powerful arguments, everything is reduced to a shouting match.
The woman at the well recognizes and receives grace. Too often in our spiritual lives, a tremendous grace has been prepared for us, which we fritter away because of our own selfishness. Although she begins by being selfish, soon she is drawn into adoration and eventually service.
When we worry too much about our own rights, we end up wallowing in misery. When we focus on God and his glory, we treat each other with respect. We are not to lord over others, for we have one God who is Lord of all.
From worst to first
The woman had been ostracized. She made several bad choices, but these could not define her. Rather, she would be the one who brought the salvific message of Christ to her town. They would see her as a source of truth and of teaching. This was a far cry from how she had been treated for years. God coming to her town was a catalyzing event that would change the course of her life.
The Jesus Experience
The woman at the well had an experience of Jesus that she never expected. He bridged the gap: between Jewish-Samaritan relations and male-female relations. Here, she found a man who loved her for who she truly was. Here she found a man who had come to save her. This encounter changed her life. She had to share with others the incredible experience and we can be sure that she spent the rest of her life doing precisely that.