Reading Between the Lines

Artist He Qi’s Samaritan Woman at the Well . . .

John 4:5-42The Third Sunday of Lent – for Sunday, March 19, 2017

“Come and see a man who has told me everything I’ve done. Could this man be the Christ?” (John 4:29)

I wonder if she cried?

I wonder if she lied?

For me, the second is easier to answer since the Samaritan woman’s (John 4:5-42) “lie” about Jesus felt more like an exaggeration. When telling her fellow villagers, “Come and see a man who has told me everything I’ve done,” didn’t her enthusiasm stretch the facts?

Everything? Really?

On this third Sunday of Lent, and within the lengthy, meandering thirty-seven verses of John’s Gospel lesson for the lectionary, what did Jesus likely know about her?

  • She was a Samaritan.
  • She was a woman.
  • She came alone, around noon, to the well that supplied her village’s water.
  • She courageously—or foolishly, or brazenly—answered Jesus’ first question and kept conversing with the “enemy.” (After all, Jews and Samaritans were way low on the friendliness scale.)
  • She and Jesus bantered about theology.

My bullet points are obvious information. That Jesus—or any current reader or past local water-gatherer—knew that this person was a Samaritan and a woman and obtaining water at a well isn’t much more impressive than revealing the Statue of Liberty grasps a torch or the Grand Canyon is deep.

Of course, I didn’t list what Jesus said about her husband . . . nor about what he said regarding her prior handful of husbands and that the current fellow in her life wasn’t really her husband. And while Jesus’ rejoinder about her husbands’ tally may be impressive (or not impressive if your take on Jesus is that, as the Son of God, he already knew every detail about every person), was it enough for her to proclaim his all-encompassing knowledge about her?

Well . . . it was for her!

Really?

Why?

Here’s where, as I frequently do, I read between the many lines of this lectionary passage. I imagine a sun-blasted mid-day with two unexpected people sharing time around a well. It’s a meeting place and watering spot serving an obscure village in the “land Jacob had given to his son Joseph.”

I imagine not just words, but also silence. I imagine not just numbered verses, but also revealed emotions. I imagine not just the well, but also the world around it.

This is how one section reads:

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will never be thirsty and will never need to come here to draw water!”

Jesus said to her, “Go, get your husband, and come back here.”

The woman replied, “I don’t have a husband.”

“You are right to say, ‘I don’t have a husband,’” Jesus answered. “You’ve had five husbands, and the man you are with now isn’t your husband. You’ve spoken the truth.”

This is how I imagine it:

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will never be thirsty and will never need to come here to draw water!”

Jesus paused while gazing directly at the woman. He said to her, “Go, get your husband, and come back here.”

For a long moment, they studied each other, as if they were the only two people in the world. The wind gusted. A bird swooped low in the cloudless sky.

Bowing her head, the woman whispered, “I don’t have a husband.”

“You are right to say, ‘I don’t have a husband,’” Jesus answered. “You’ve had five husbands, and the man you are with now isn’t your husband. You’ve spoken the truth.”

She wept.

How easy to supply a bit of wind or a bird. How easy to depict two people holding a gaze, or the woman weeping. And yet I can’t read this passage, or believe this encounter, without those bold additions.

A woman and a man.

A Samaritan and a Jew.

For those reasons alone, they shouldn’t talk.

They do.

Jesus speaks with her. Jesus listens to her.

Wasn’t Jesus the Son of God, the beloved and the anointed, and therefore knew she’d had many men in her life? Or instead was Jesus a first century version of Sherlock Holmes, a clever observer, able to discern the past and present through his elementary deductions? Or was good old Jesus just a good guesser?

This, with my feeble faith, I believe for sure . . .

He listened.

She was heard.

This was, for perhaps only mere moments, for the span of time it takes a gust of wind to kick up dust, or a bird to soar over the well and wing toward the village, a relationship between the two.

There was honesty. Respect. Sharing. Trust.

How can I not imagine that she wept?

I have witnessed similar tears in the grief support groups I now lead for a hospice. One person says something to another. The words were spoken with love and empathy. One person hears something from another. It was received with understanding and a sense of connection. The grieving person, speaker or listener or both, discovers they are not alone. And the person weeps.

They are known.

They are loved and not judged.

They are seen as fully human and completely a child of God.

Yes, I read between the lines.

There, between the lines and our lives, the Holy moves like the wind, like a bird aloft on an invisible breeze, like living water, and where two people meet and everything is known.

+      +      +

The “Read Between the Lines” Church!*

*Found this delightful, whimsical, and imaginative “church” at this website. I think this may be in Denmark . . . try the builder’s website also and look for Reading Between the Lines.

And the He Qi painting was found here.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *