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Short Story – Jesus Encounters the Samaritan Woman at the Well

Samaritan Woman at the Well

Walking along the side of the road, I can’t really focus on anything but the steady ache throbbing in my back. Alone, the calluses on my palms burn as I hold on to the heavy water jug and try to rebalance it on my leg. I look up and see the women of the village from the distance, watching me with judging eyes that remind me how unwelcome I am. The sand dances in front of me, blowing into my eyes and I rub the back of my hand on my watery eyes. Quiet, brief tears fill my eyes, the same ones that come every night before bed, and every morning before the world is awake to see me. One escapes and falls down my face, and I drop my water jug on the ground in frustration, feeling the piercing eyes staring behind me. I turn and find my neighbor’s wife laughing at me, and I rub the salty tear off my dirty face. 

I’m used to this. Fighting my battles alone, picking myself up when I fall, and getting the same dirty looks from the same villagers– it’s my daily routine. Yet it wasn’t always like this. I sigh, push myself off the floor and walk towards the well, wiping the sweat from my forehead with my skirt. The sun scorches my back, and I can’t help but wish I could come earlier in the morning to grab water like the other women in my village do. Before the warm glow of the sun emits each morning, the village women have already gone up together to fetch water for their families. I hear them walk past my home every day, laughing together, as I lay on my bed wiping the tears from my eyes. They don’t talk to me, much less invite me. I am conformed now to walking up the long, tedious path to the well with the sun burning my face, all alone. 

With my eyes gazing at the dirt on my feet, looking down to avoid anyone’s staring, I reach the well and see someone already sitting there. Confused, I notice a man with long, dark hair, with his back towards me blissfully sitting at the well. With a slight slump to his shoulders, he looks tired and my instincts tell me that this is not a man from the village, nor anyone I know. I walk cautiously towards the well, and as I grow closer I realize this man is a Jew. I stumble back. Why is there a Jew, so near Samaria? Why is he sitting alone at Jacob’s well, in the hot summer heat?

I contemplate walking back, but with the scorching heat I refuse to leave without coming for the water I came for. I grudgingly approach the well and decide to simply ignore the man. I look down at my feet, hair covering my face, avoiding at all costs the gaze of this Jew. The last thing I need is more animosity from a Jew towards me, a Samaritan woman. Yet as I approach the well, the man turns to look at me, and does not stop gazing at me until I drop my water jug into the well. His gaze is different, however, from the gaze of the men from my village, who only want me for what I can offer. His gaze draws my eyes up, and I look at him, curiosity stirring inside of me. “Give me a drink.” The man’s voice is gentle, but strong and his command catches me off guard. “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” This man must be dying from exhaustion or out of his mind to ask me, of all people, for a drink. Jews refuse to have anything in common with Samaritans, so what is this man doing? The man’s lips curve up, forming a small smile and he says, “If you know the gift of God who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink’, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” I chuckle, looking to the sky wondering what trick God wants to play on me now. God has not remembered my name nor turned to look at me in years, much less gifted me with anything. And living water? I look around him, finding no bucket near him with which to pull up water and laugh. “Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the well is deep; where then can you get this living water?” I begin to push my water jug around the well and pull the rope as I turn to see his face studying me curiously. Perhaps this a trick coming from a Jew, trying to ensnare me in some joke of his. He is a Jew, and as such must regard Samaritans beneath him. Why is he asking me for a drink if he has “living” water? “Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this well and drank from it himself with his children and flocks?” He watches me as I begin to pull up the water jug from the well, wishing he could just leave. “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks in the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

My hands stumble as I pull up the jug and it nearly falls back into the well. I turn around and goggle at this man, wondering who he could truly be. He must see the questioning battling inside me drawn on my face. I turn away from him, hiding my face and ponder on his words. What kind of water could this man have that will never leave me thirsty again? My mind flashes to the nights I thirsted for water because I was too ashamed to go up to the well alone. Who could this man possibly be? The curiosity within me wins as I say “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or keep having to come here to draw water.”

His next words draw me from my curiosity and back into the reality of my life, full of shame and indignity. “Go call your husband and come back.” Blood rushes up into my face and I feel my face burning red, my words choked up in the back of my throat. He walks in front of me and the way his eyes find mine, full of understanding and compassion, devastates me. I picture the man who I slept intertwined with the night before, and the man before him, and the one before him. Yet above all, the face of the young girl I once was swims up to the surface of my mind, reminding me of when I simply craved to be loved enough to matter. Shame clouds my heart and I hear my voice speaking yet I feel far away. Somehow the words “I do not have a husband” come out in a whisper and I close my eyes so that the man may not see the tears I am holding back, throat tight. His voice is gentle, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 

My eyes search his eyes frantically, my heart accelerating as I can hear my blood pounding in my ears. I fling my head back towards my village, wondering if perhaps this is some type of sick joke from the village woman, as a sob escapes my lips. When I see no one there, I laugh out of the incredulity of it all and let a tear fall down my face. How could this man know all of these things about me? “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet.” He smiles at me once again, and says, “You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshippers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.” Understanding begins to clear my mind as I take in his words. “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Anointed; and when he comes he will tell us everything.” The prophet laughs and takes my hand gently in his, his eyes smiling as he looks into mine. In this simple gaze, he communicates everything to me. The night of my first wedding, the night my world crashed down after my first husband left, and the way I tried to mend my broken heart by inviting more men in, drowning myself in a never-ending abyss of pain. One after another, each man left me a little more shattered than before, until now. 

In his eyes I see myself, and for the first time I see eyes looking back into mine with an unbreakable whisper of something I have never felt before. A well glistens in his eyes, full of living water, full of him, full of love. True love, that doesn’t shatter or leave you broken, but a pure love that mends, restores and saves. I know what his next words will be before he speaks them, “I am he, the one who is speaking with you.” This seventh man, the man I encountered at the well, is the man who my soul has been waiting for. The Messiah. My Savior.

It all happens so fast. I drop my water jug, water soaking my dress but I don’t mind because the Messiah is standing right in front of me, and he is looking at me. He is looking at me with the deep love my heart has been yearning for. My heart feels light as I jump into his arms, hugging him tightly and feel the warmth of his laughter. I see men walking towards us from the distance and he waves them over, but they stand aside gazing from afar. He looks at me once more and I know exactly what I have to do. I run back towards my village, nearly tripping over my long skirt, excitement exploding from my chest to go tell the villagers what I just witnessed. I am nearly halfway home when I realize I have forgotten my jug and turn to look back. My Messiah is still standing there near the well, and though I can’t see clearly I know he is smiling at me. 

I see my water jug lying there near his feet, yet I don’t mind and simply smile. This afternoon, I walked with reluctant feet and a shattered heart to fetch water from the well. Yet as I look at Jesus standing there, smiling at me, I realize I found everything my heart could ever want at that well. I beam back at him and race towards my village, happiness flowing from my heart like a spring of living water, for the first time. I have seen the Messiah, and the Messiah has seen me.

“Come see a man who told me everything I have done! Could this possibly be the Messiah?” (John 4:29)

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