Come and see. That’s what she says. Come and see this man who told me everything I had ever done – could he, he can’t be, the Messiah, can he? Come and see.
The woman at the well has got a bad press in the past, possibly quite undeserved. People have said that the fact that she was at the well at noon meant that she was an outcast, under the scorn and beneath the contempt of her townspeople. They have said that the five husbands and the man with whom she now lives had a lot to do with that scorn and contempt. Yet the text contains no hint of judgment. Jesus does not accuse her of any moral sin when he uses his insight to surprise her with his knowledge of her situation, so why should we? Their meeting at noon stands in high contrast to the meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews, at midnight. This Samaritan woman is more ready to see the light that he was. In fact, while Nicodemus took a lifetime to decide about Jesus, this woman, in a few short minutes, in a brief encounter beside a well, moves from “Who are you, and what do you do want?”, through, “I see that you are a prophet,” to “He couldn’t be the Messiah, could he?” to the conversion of a whole city: “At first we believed because of what you told us, but now we have seen and heard for ourselves, and we know that he is the Saviour of the world,” and all because she was willing to say, “Come and see.”
What if she was an outcast, a reprobate? They heard her anyway: Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony. What if she was not an outcast, but one respected and well-connected? Then they listened to her, and because they listened to her they heard Jesus: “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.” We do not need to know where she stood to follow her example.
I have to wonder why, out of the two meetings, at night and at noon, in secret and at Sychar, it is Nicodemus’ name that we remember, and not that of the woman, who gets to be the Samaritan woman, or the woman at the well, or the one with five husbands and more. It is as though we want to sideline her, as though we are afraid of her challenge: “Come and see. He can’t be the Messiah, can he?”
Nicodemus was prudent, cautious, careful and judicious, all qualities that we appreciate. The woman was a little more extravagant, exuberant, garrulous, loud; qualities that we might enjoy in others but are wary of displaying for ourselves (or is it just me?). Are we, even the ones who show up to church on a Sunday morning, who tithe and provide the coffee, who pray and provide rides to one another, who volunteer and do good works – are we still a little afraid to follow the example of one who casts caution to the wind and calls all who will listen to “Come and see? See what you think. Do you think he is the Messiah? Do you think that God really might love us that much?” Are we still hiding in the shadows of the dark with Nicodemus, afraid to come out into the light of day as disciples of Christ?
What are we afraid of?
Perhaps we are afraid that those we meet will not understand. We tend to look for God, for the gospel, in times of stress, but we are afraid to offer it as a salve to those who are wounded, in case we are misunderstood. The woman said, “Give me this living water, so that I will not have to come here any more to draw water,” but that is not the offer that Jesus is making. He does not promise that life will suddenly become easy, that the well will bring water to the city by itself so that the women don’t need to carry it. He doesn’t promise that the heat of the day will diminish, or that winter will end. He will not rewrite her troubling and ambiguous history. He doesn’t offer to end the realities of human life, but to sustain those living through them, to slake their thirst for hope, to soothe their feverish fears, to give them life and courage, all that they need to get through this day, and the next.
Give us today our daily bread, we ask, each day, not that we will never need to eat again, not that we will never hunger, but that we will be sustained, that we will not starve for the lack of God’s mercy and providence.
Are we afraid that it will not sound like enough? Are we afraid that the offer of hope will resound hollowly to the one who is facing death, that the offer of courage will falter before the one facing foreclosure, that the offer of life will be a slap in the face to the disappointed parent, to the grieving widow, to those in despair? Who do we think we are to make such judgments, to keep our help to ourselves, to ration the hope that we offer to others, to dispense, judiciously, only the courage that we deem appropriate to their situation, when we have found the waters of eternal life, when we have seen the Messiah, and have heard him tell us everything about ourselves?
What brings us back to this well? Isn’t it worth sharing?
We don’t have to be the ones with all of the answers, we are not the answer. We are right not to pretend that we have found the panacea that will cure all ills; we know that we cannot take away someone else’s pain. But we can offer the help that we have found. We can say, “We have met someone who spoke to us, when we were at the well. When our tears welled up and when our lives dried up; when our courage failed and when our hearts were parched and stony. When we plumbed the depths to find that the well was so deep, and so dark, and the water beyond our reach, we met someone who understood it all, and who offered to stay with us, beside the well.”
“Come and see.”
Even better: “Come with me, and see.”
And many from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all about myself.” So when they came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this truly is the Saviour of us all.” Amen.