What’s in the water you’re drinking?
In the gospel reading I’m reminded Jesus is the brazen rabble-rouser that I always forget about. “At that moment his disciples returned, and were amazed that he was talking with a woman,” (John 4:27). Jesus dared to speak with a woman when it was not allowed or permitted. Not only that, but he chose to speak with a Samaritan woman, and in doing this he tore through the current rules of the social order that was supposed to divide men and women, Jews and Samaritans. Even the woman he spoke to couldn’t believe his nerve; she thought to remind him that what he was doing was not permitted, as if he didn’t already know: “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” Then the gospel writer John reminds us: “For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.” (John 4:9)
They use nothing in common. Does this, perhaps, remind you of separate drinking fountains? Separate bathrooms and swimming pools, according to skin color? And just when you start to think I’m talking about the Jim Crow laws of the past, consider separate neighborhoods and schools of today.
Today, we are submerged into waters of social order, waters of racism, homophobia, gender norms, hierarchy of caste, and so on. We have unknowingly absorbed and swallowed this water, without having ever questioned it. Yet drinking this water leaves us thirsty. Jesus calls us to be with people we’re “not supposed to” be with. He calls us to break the boundaries that our white supremacist, capitalist, caste-based US social order tries to force us into. This social order keeps us separated, it keeps us discriminating, and it ultimately decreases our contact with other human beings and therefore decreases our access to God.
Can you imagine what would have happened if Jesus didn’t speak with the Samaritan woman? A whole group of people would not have known about Jesus in the Samaritan community, because she was responsible for spreading the news about her encounter with Jesus to her people. Similarly, this gospel shows us that these encounters with others outside our norm have the power to change us, to refresh our rote ways of conversing with God and invite us to experience Christ through new channels. When we stay in our own little siloes we deprive ourselves of human relationship, which can bring us closer to God. We start to drink the living water instead of the water that keeps us thirsty.
Just when you start to wonder who you are to challenge the way things are, consider the unlikely example of the Samaritan woman. She, a woman and a Samaritan, discovers Jesus has seen her and knows about the things she might have been shameful about. That excruciatingly vulnerable moment of knowing and holy encounter shifted things within her and inspired her to tell others about him. She left what she was doing and became a vessel of the Good News: “Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me everything I have done,’” (John 4:39). Perhaps this is just a reminder that when you think your sins or misgivings are too big and hefty to acknowledge to yourself or to God, Jesus already knows them intimately, and chooses you anyway. Like the Samaritan woman, we too can be unlikely, unqualified followers that can insist upon transcending our social norms and seeking the living water in our midst.