How do you imagine her? When Jesus asks this woman, foreign and unknown to him, for a drink, what do we expect?
If she was cast in a 1940s movie, it is likely Rita Hayworth would be sashaying with her bucket to the well, her auburn hair cascading down her shoulders. As each decade progresses, we can imagine the stereotypical casting choices for “such a woman as this”.
Why do we assume this of her? The story offered to us is coloured by generations of culture, assuming the worst, or simply the least, of her. We have heard any number of men (and the occasional woman) preach about her weaknesses and failings, neglecting to ask about the plight of any woman in such a patriarchal world.
Rather, a woman with a scarf across her face and shoulders, defying the midday heat and, probably, the glares of her community, steps cautiously to the village well.
What person, even now, would elect a life with so many fractures? It is possible that her scarf disguised the consequences of such a life, common knowledge – and seed for common gossip – in small rural communities. This is not a life of choice, but one forced upon her, and perhaps her children. I wonder if her last de facto relationship gives her a fraction of freedom to choose, which none of the others – husband, Law, or community – would permit.
The poet, Seamus Heaney, [see the previous post] may be inviting us to consider her as someone even less similar to how she is typically cast:
She came every morning to draw water
Like an old bat staggering up the field …
And at that moment, we are free to brush aside the poet’s image, or discover the courage to consider it.
When she finds the voice to reply to Jesus, is it one of confidence, or is it barely above a whisper, for fear of who might be listening; or that one more man is asking something of her?
Does she glance warily around, as the conversation with Jesus reveals more than she would ever intend?
Does she discover the depth of Jesus’ mercy, that he offers life to her, with nothing required in return?
Is her fear quenched when, braced for the customary assault, or blame, or barter, she is simply and only offered life?
Jesus gives her everything, when she, perhaps, believes she deserves less than nothing. Perhaps, even worse, this is reinforced for her every day.
Until this day.
What can it mean that Jesus knows everything we have ever done, and still welcomes us as loved?
What does it means that, despite the expectations and demands of everyone, Jesus speaks to us, offering life which fills our emptiness to overflowing?
What a story we have. The unwelcome welcomed. The unloved loved. The outcast gathered in. The broken healed.
A story worth the telling, is it not?