In Japan, in the weeks after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the troubles at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant continued, and 150 miles away in Tokyo, mothers were being warned not to mix their babies’ formula with tap water. Although authorities advised the residents not to hoard, it happened. They hurried to buy up bottled water, understandably. If the water is not safe for infants, why chance it for anyone else? Every hour of every day, the people of Japan had to think about what really mattered and what they really needed to survive and how to care for the people they loved most.
In the aftermath of disaster, we all stop and think about what matters to us. We don’t even have to be directly touched by the disaster ourselves. Just knowing there is death or mayhem brings us up short, causes us to look more keenly at our children, our parents, our friends and our loves. After September 11, people ended marriages and began them, because whether you were unhappy or happy, life was too short to stay the first or lose a chance at the second.
But the most dramatic moments in our lives will all be followed by the need to go, the next day, back to the well and draw more water from it.
It must have been so shocking. He told her everything she had ever done. He told her the story of her complicated life. He didn’t blame her, or anyone else, for it. He simply named it.
And that’s the key to this story. The rest is a lot of possibly confusing metaphor, in addition to numerous parenthetical attempts at explaining what everything means and how poor even the disciples are at understanding Jesus. The Samaritan woman is smart enough to engage with Jesus about the water. It must be a pleasure to talk with someone who catches on so quickly! He even reveals to her that he IS the Messiah. The disciples don’t understand him. They don’t get that he is speaking in images when he talks about food. They don’t get him.
The Samaritan woman does.
She goes back to the city, illuminated by their short conversation, and she spreads the word, and it has to be with an air of certainty that convinces people, or at least makes them curious, because they go out to meet Jesus, and he stays and wins hearts and souls.
Even so, the next day, that woman must go back to the well, for the regular, ordinary water needed in her household, where she lives with whoever isn’t her husband.
The work of being alive goes on, day after day. And although Jesus told her the hour was near, we are still waiting.
I’m proud to be among a great group of writers who contributed to Abingdon’s Creative Preaching Annual for 2014 (also 2015 and just signed on for 2016). This is one of a series of essays of mine for the book; I’ll be posting them as they come up in the Revised Common Lectionary. You can get a paperback copy at the link above or buy the book for your Kindle here.