At this time of the year (or, perhaps at any time of the year here in Northern Ireland!), it is hard to imagine the heat of the noon day sun in Palestine and the sheer physical impact it has on those active outside in it and without shelter from it.
While the disciples went on looking for food, a weary Jesus stopped for rest from his journey by the local well; hoping for a drink of refreshing water. The difficulty was, however, he had nothing with which to draw it up from the well. It seems, at least in the films, that there is always something at wells to use for drawing up water, but here it appears there wasn’t (nicked or vandalised – I wonder?).
So, Jesus sat waiting in hope that someone else might arrive and offer him water; though, it is hard to imagine he would not have known the very limited possibility of someone drawing water at the time of the day when people tended to stay indoors while the sun was at its height and the heat was most intense. Whether it started out as a forlorn hope or an imagined, shimmering mirage someone did arrive, however, with their own gourd-skin ‘bucket’.
Two strangers found themselves unexpectedly meeting at an historic place of contested life; yet, while one was without the means, the other was without the understanding. It would have probably been more straightforward for Jesus to remain stiff, tight-lipped and full of ethno-religious self-righteousness, and thirsty, but he took the initiative.
The boundaries separating the woman and Jesus were immense and otherwise fixed in their own sectarianism. Life was going to be limited for each of them unless a way could be found that would allow things to be different.
Jesus could have begun by demanding water on the basis of his power and authority but to what would that have led? Would that have been the way to new possibilities of living; or, would that have been the way to reinforce the old ways? Would that have given him a drink or allowed the woman to find a new well for life?
Instead, Jesus chose to admit his need, place his vulnerability before her and ask her for help. Here then was the way that led to Life for the woman and, in turn, her community; and, maybe even led to a drink for Jesus!
Thus, may God grant us the grace and courage to sit for a while by the contested space of another’s well and, through this way of Jesus, may sectarian conflict be transformed and new Life flow.
Amen: Lord, have mercy.