There’s nothing churchy about Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well. It takes place outdoors and on the road. We know the location, but the importance of the place is in its current insignificance. The well is mostly empty. The disciples, who act like the ushers at the back of the church handing out bulletins and taking attendance, are gone. The crowd is absent. There are no rules, no social protocol. Just Jesus and this woman. Anyone who takes this text and tries to say something from it in support of institutional religion, or to get something done in their church, is doing the gospel great harm.
Jesus knows just the right thing to say to this woman to prepare her for spiritual transformation. He asks her to bring her husband. There is something in each of our lives that acts as a hinge. For some people its money. For others its status or the position they hold in their career. Still others are spiritually shut down because of childhood traumas or past violence. For this woman, the door that needed to be swung involved her relationship with men. Since the issue is between this woman and her God, John throws a veil over the specifics. He says simply that she has had five husbands and is living with a sixth. I’m sure that the conversation she had with Jesus included much more than what we have the right to know (see John 4:29).
Part of what we hope for in our spiritual walk, and particularly in Lent, is this kind of confidentiality. There is a mixture of shame, guilt, and uncertainty for each of us surrounding the spiritual hinge point(s) of our life. What we need to get to is that place where we are honest to Jesus and we, in turn, hear his acceptance. This is essential.
The woman, not Jesus, attempts to shift the conversation back to institutional matters. She asks, “Where is the right place to have a church, which denomination should it be, and how many candles belong on the altar?”
Jesus says, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
How would you say this line in your own words and choosing examples from your own experience? This is a test, only a test. Can you speak without church jargon for a few minutes and tell how you know God as spirit? What moments in your life have resonated most fully with spiritual communion and the true worship of God? How does this incident of Jesus and this Samaritan woman speak to the essential nature of our shared humanity?
It’s only after there has been sufficient honesty in this conversation about spiritual hinge points, that Jesus reveals his nature as the Christ. How do we get sufficient honesty in our lenten journey and the journey of our people to be prepared to see Jesus as the suffering God on Good Friday?