Woman by the Well

“Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (John 4:4-7 NIV)


She stumbled over the door-sill in her haste,
caught herself with a quick step and stopped
to twitch her shawls and skirts back into place
before she spoke. “There is a man by Jacob’s well…”

“Yes,” said Miriam from deep in the shadows under the porch,
her voice well practiced, as dry and colorless as sand,
“you would know one.”

They sniggered at that. Giggled.
Some laughed aloud. No secrets here.

She drew herself up,
breathing deep like a hen inflating for combat,
but then let it sigh away. “Not that kind of man.”

“Oh, then there is something new under heaven today!”
the wit crowed to another round of titters.

This was a game they knew.
These two were often at it, the old wit and the new,
trading barbs to enliven the hours
as they picked and carded wool and spun.

“Yes,” she said, suddenly stubborn,
“you have it right though you would never know it,
right being so rare beneath your roof.
There is maybe some one new under heaven.”

She paused, walked deeper under the roof of woven wattle,
and put her hand up to steady herself on a post.
Her voice was surprisingly tentative,
as though the blushing girl of twelve she had buried
in years of hard living and harder loving
had climbed back out of her grave
to stand behind her face for a moment…

“I think I might have seen the Jew’s Messiah…”

She might as well have said “a twelve headed camel,”
or “the emperor of Rome,” or “the ghost of father Jacob.”

Their eyes peered out of the half light at her,
their fingers suddenly still, waiting for the punch line,
for the other sandal to drop, to hear the joke.

Surely she was joking.

Finally, in the silence, the old wit gathered hers.
“What? By our well? He’s lost then.
He wants Jerusalem and that’s a good day’s walk south.
Not much of a messiah if he can’t even
find the folks he came to save, I’d say.”

Titters, but a bit uncertain now.
They didn’t know where this was going.

She circled the pole slowly, talking as much to herself as to them.
“He asked me for a drink and then he offered me water
from the well of life, living water, he said,
such water I would never thirst again.
I didn’t know what he was talking about, of course,
I thought he was joking, but then he told me my sin,
tweaked me proper over, well, you know,”
she put a hand, unconsciously, to her hair, and struck a pose,
“my men, though I’d never seen him before in my life.
He is a Jew I tell you, no one from around here,
and I thought he was being clever,
that someone had been at the well before me telling tales.
I thought he was playing the prophet, just being,
you know, a Jew, or maybe even coming on a bit,
(he wasn’t half bad looking) so I threw it back in his face.

‘You Jews,’ I said, ‘say we have to worship in Jerusalem,
but our fathers worshiped just fine
right here on this mountain.’

“And then it was as though he was looking right through me.

‘The time is coming when you won’t need
this mountain to worship or Jerusalem either,’ he says,
‘the father is spirit and those who worship him
must worship where they are, in spirit and in truth.’

“And I got this shiver up my spine, and I said
(I don’t know why I said it)
‘When the Messiah comes he will explain it all to us.’
and he said, ‘I am speaking to you right now.’
And then he looked me full in the face and I thought,
‘my God, he is. He sees me, he sees my life,
he knows my men, he knows everything I’ve ever done.’
I wasn’t laughing then I tell you,
and then he smiled, he just, 
smiled at me.”


A tear ran down her face as they stared.
“Oh,” she said, suddenly impatient,
with them, with herself, knowing how she must look,
how she must sound, “come see for yourself.
He’s still there.”

She prodded the nearest girl with a none too gentle toe.
“They were eating when I left, him and his followers.
Come see!
This is something new under heaven.
I swear it is! Come see him.”

And she plucked and pulled and prodded—
beckoned and bullied to no real effect.

“Huh” Miriam said,
rising ponderously from behind her pile of wool,
“Why not? Let’s all go see this wonder.
I want to see the man who can
make this woman cry, don’t you?”

And they went, talking, laughing—
taking, before they were done,
half the town with them.

If they were laughing when they came back,
a good many of them, it was with joy…
drunk on living water,
on the new certainty that they would never thirst again.


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