Streams in the Desert: The Woman at the Well.

This was my homily on John 4:1-42 for the Women’s World Day of Prayer 2014

What do we find here?

There is a woman
at the well.

She stands in the sun.

Some people think that she is a sinner
that she has had a string of husbands,
of lovers,
of infidelities as long as her arm.

She is a woman at the well.
Maybe she is a sinner.

Some people think she has been unfortunate.
That brother after brother after cousin died
leaving her childless and defenceless
and forced to marry the next and the next and the next
until this one didn’t even bother to marry her.

She is a woman at the well.
Maybe she is unfortunate, and abused.

Some people will say ‘ah, but the 5 husbands are really
the five foreign tribes living in the land of Samaria
with whom the Samaritans mixed on their return.
She is a metaphor for all of Samaria.’

She is a woman
at the well.
Maybe she is Samaria,
standing there in the sun.

Some say the five husbands are the five books of Torah,
others identify her as a saint, Photini,
later to be martyred.
Some say it was midday
some say it was evening
some say she had a jar,
others a bucket.

She is a woman at the well.
Maybe she is all sinners;
all saints, all martyrs;
all the unfortunate and abused.
Maybe she is all her countrywomen and men.
Maybe she is all of ours.
Maybe not.

She is a woman and she has come
with her vessel,
to draw water
at the well.

She has come in her particularity.
a person, a name, a history;
her person, her name, her history.
She can be no other than she is.

She has come to the water.
With her thirst, her need, her task.

She meets a man.
He comes in his particularity.
A person, a name a history
Who can be no other than he is.

He is a man at the well.
He is a man with a thirst on him.

He brings no vessel.
If he is to receive he will receive from her.

They meet, and talk. A strange dialogue takes place.

How does it come about that this
is the place of transformation?
-this is the moment of grace?

How does it ever?

Each have need: a thirst of sorts.
The well is deep
with water infused with history,
and drinking leads to more of the same
thirst and slake, thirst and slake
an endless cycle
binding everything to its place.
Himself, his sons, his cattle….

Each takes a risk;
forsakes the safety of convention.
to occupy a different space
where separation is suspended
and difference finds a place.

Each tells a story.
In speaking truth, one to other
they hear the Word.
He asks
She questions
He offers
She accepts
a free gift, offered by God.

She is beheld
He is known.

She says ‘I see,’
He says his first ‘I am…’

And, afterwards
she leaves her water jar behind.
Perhaps she is leaving the familiar
as the fishermen left their nets to follow Christ.
Perhaps she knows now that the water is within.

And what do we know of her baptised life?
Only that she was a woman in a hurry;
the first to go and tell.

Only that where the disciples had earlier bought food
she went without mandate
and founded a Church,
and many believed on the strength of her testimony.

And what do we know of this Church?
They prayed, ‘stay with us;’
they heard him and believed
and became the Church of the baptised,
like poplars by streams of water.

When we come to the water, in these days,
we can be no other than we are.

People will have their views about the method and meaning of our living.
They will have their say about our loving and our compromise.
They will add to us significance or insignificance according to their need.
Maybe they’re right.
Maybe not.

We can be no other than we are.
Women, men, at the well.

In this baptised life
we will come to know our thirst
like an old friend guiding us home.

We will feel our dryness;
the parch which comes of spending
the wealth of our lives
on what fails to satisfy –
and we will come to the water.

Where history has bound us
a new story will make us free
and forge new encounters
of spirit and truth.

We will hesitate over pretence,
and be real in the meeting;
allow another to make us tilt and falter,
and turn around,
allow our mouths to shape the words,
‘give me this water.’

In this baptised life we will recognise moments
when we no longer need the vessel
because the water is within;
bubbling up
like a spring,
Streams in dry land
making us young
making a fertile valley of our lives.

Flowing into our hearts;
irrigating our bodies;
streaming into our relating, creating,
flooding our work, our words,
our silence, our prayer.

Rivers of justice,
pouring out into the world,

Encountering Christ in all who thirst.

Author: realmofsparks

Anne Francis is a Pastoral/Practical theologian and spiritual care practitioner. She has a Pastoral Supervision practice and is author of 'Called: Women in Ministry in Ireland.'

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