She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!”
Such was the exuberant response of the nameless woman at the well, after talking with Jesus.
Such an impression Jesus made on this woman, that she could do nothing but drop everything, leaving behind even her water jar, and rush back to the city to invite others to “come and see” this Jesus.
So, what was it about Jesus, and their conversation together, that changed everything for this woman?
I came upon some comments made by another woman, Jackie Rand, who wrote about meeting for the first time author and priest Henri Nouwen (now deceased) at a cocktail party back in 1995.
Listen to how she describes this encounter in her own words:
“We started what I thought was a casual conversation, but quickly realized I was engaged in a very unusual experience. I think it was because I felt enveloped by Henri’s gaze, the object of his undivided attention to the exclusion of everyone else. I have seldom had this sensation—only in intimate conversations or with a therapist. Yet here was this man I didn’t know offering me the gift of his completely focussed attention.”
How hard it is! How rare it is, either to give or receive that kind of attention to each other, in the middle of our busy, distracted living!
I can’t help but imagine that this woman at the well had a similar experience in meeting and talking with Jesus.
Perhaps even for the first time in her life, she finally felt that she was given full and undivided attention; a sympathetic and understanding gaze that made her feel like a real person, a human being.
She felt listened to, affirmed, and valued in a way she perhaps had never felt before.
What makes this encounter even more profound, is the fact that these two people – the woman and Jesus – should not have been talking to each other in the first place, given the social and religious “rules” of the day.
First of all, Samaritans were a small “outsider” group, who had a number of theological and territorial disputes with the Jews.
Samaritans and Jews preferred to avoid each other when they were not actively deriding and mocking each other.
And so, the fact that Jesus, a well-known and popular Jew intentionally went up to this Samaritan to engage in conversation, was in and of itself an unthinkable act.
No self-respecting Jew would do this.
Secondly, it was against all accepted practice for a Jewish man to engage a woman in conversation… and in broad daylight at that!
First-century Jews would’ve been appalled at such behaviour, at the audacity of Jesus who claimed to be a rabbi to talk to a woman!
Finally, not only was she a Samaritan and a woman, but also someone who had a questionable, shady past.
How many men had she been with? Five, or six?
In the eyes of self-respecting society, one would have their doubts as to whether she “had it all together.”
And so here is Jesus, taking a huge, bold, risky step to initiate conversation with this “shady, Samaritan woman” at the well…. and in so doing, is boldly breaking down entrenched social and religious barriers between Jews and Samaritans, men and women.
Jesus is sending a signal – loud and clear – that his life, work and ministry are all about seeing every human being as a person to be treated with respect and dignity.
Jesus is all about breaking down barriers.
Jesus saw this woman, and knew everything about her – knew all the less-than-great choices she’s made, all the mistakes and complexities and problems associated with her and her life – he knew all of it… and yet still he loved her.
The woman could tell Jesus knew everything – the whole sordid truth of her life. She couldn’t hide it. The truth was out there, laid bare.
But she knew something else. His truth-revealing gaze was not a condemning gaze. It had no look of disgust, revulsion or loathing.
Jesus’ gaze did not condemn.
Rather, his truth-revealing gaze was full of compassion and understanding… I can even imagine his eyes with tears of love.
In a world where we constantly feel criticized, devalued, and condemned by others…
… or where we beat up and condemn ourselves way too much,
… or where we’re caught up in the entertaining game of pointing fingers, and smugly judging and condemning others,
…where we’re very good at putting up barriers…
Jesus’ way is a different way.
He totally undercuts that cycle of mutual condemnation.
Jesus peers deeply into our eyes – and sees there, the truth:
The pain that’s there. The heartache.
He also sees the triumph that’s there. The passion and joy.
Jesus gazes deeply into our eyes, and sees there the tenderness and compassion we have. The goodness and beauty of our personality.
He gazes deeply into our eyes and sees everything. He sees it all.
And he loves us anyway. Holding us in both the ugly messiness and jubilant glory of our lives.
Lent is a time for tears…a time where we permit ourselves to feel the sorrow of our lives and world… as we enter into the suffering of Jesus, we let the tears flow.
At all the injustice and sorrow in the world and in our lives, sometimes all we feel like doing is falling to our knees and weeping, weeping and shaking our head at all the wrongs we and others do.
Our tears flow.
Tears, as we know, are saltwater.
The oceans too, are saltwater.
All freshwater rivers and lakes flow down and collect into the oceans, the deepest places on earth, where it turns into saltwater. Because water in the ocean has nowhere else to flow, all the sediment and silt and other materials that find their way to settle in the ocean, make the water turn to salt water.
The fact that tears are saltwater reminds me that when we shed the tears of honesty about the truth of ourselves – warts and all – we’re not alone.
Our tears connect us to each other.
We join with everyone else in that large, expansive ocean of God’s people – all broken in different ways, yet beloved – together with God who holds us and loves us no matter what.
Our tears mingle with everyone else’s, and with God’s tears.
And somehow, we’re strangely refreshed.
We begin that slow and ponderous journey toward healing and renewal, emerging as confident and free, secure on the bedrock of God’s superabundant and steadfast love.
Like water spilling over and rushing out to flood the dry, arid lands, the forgiving and healing love we ourselves have experienced in God begins to overflow and spill over to touch the lives of others.
With God, we become life-giving streams of water for the world.