Lent 3 Scrutiny "Something in the Water" ~ Susan McGurgan

Updated: Mar 3, 2021


It was the kind of day

when the hills shimmered in the heat

and the sun offered the illusion of water-

just a little further down the path.

It was the kind of day when nothing--

not even the gnats and the flies

ventured out at noon.


The wealthy dozed in shady courtyards,

protected from the heat

by servants waving fans and offering cool drinks.

The poor gasped for air

and shared scraps of shade with the village dogs.


But just about noon,

when the sun was directly overhead,

a solitary woman of Sychar

started down the path towards Jacob’s well.

This particular woman

always

went to the well at noon.


Every other woman

in every other town

went to the well in the cool of the morning,

or in the soft light of dusk.

Chattering and laughing,

sharing the latest news,

the daily trip to the well was a social event --

a welcome public break

in the secluded hours that made up a woman’s day--

a day spent caring for children, cooking, weaving, gathering, washing.


But this particular woman--

this solitary woman of Sychar,

always walked to the well alone,

just about noontime.


The heat from the path rose in waves,

scorching her feet through her sandals.

Sweat trickled down her back

and even her coolest robe became sticky and hot.

She could taste the dust deep in the back of her throat,

and her thirst grew.


For her, there was no banter or gossip-

no laughter,

no singing to make the path smoother or the jar lighter.

There would be no friendly hand

thrown out in support when she stumbled.


She told herself she didn't care.

She told herself she didn't want their friendship;

didn’t like their company.

Bunch of chattering fools.

Who needs them?


She pretended that going to the well alone,

at the hottest part of the day,

was her choice.


I like it, she said fiercely. I like being alone.

Besides, I never have to wait--

No one gets in my way,

No petty quarrels,

No obnoxious children,

No stares…

No whispers…

No problems…


Oh, it hadn't always been this way.

Once,

in another village,

in another lifetime,

she had been in the middle of it all-

the laughter, the singing,

the casual talk that said so little,

but meant so much.

Once,

she took her place among other women.

As wife, neighbor, friend.


But that was many men ago.


In a world that was often cruel to women and children,

she determined to create her own luck.

In a world where the weak died

and the powerless lived in the shadows,

she learned how to be strong.

In a world that measured a woman's worth

by her relationships to men—

father, husband, son-

she figured out how to survive.


But surviving always comes at a price.

And for her,

survival meant

that she journeyed to the well alone

in the heat of the noon-day sun.


So be it, she thought.

There had been five men in her life,

and the current one,

though not a husband--

was not as bad as some,

and better than most.

It could be worse, she thought wearily,

The well could be dry and we could die of thirst.

And then she saw him.

A stranger-- sitting at the well.


Later,

much later-

when everyone asked her about that day;

about what he said---

about what they discussed--

she always answered,

Mostly, we talked about water.


Yet, somehow,

as they spoke about living water,

and worshiping in Spirit and truth,

and the coming of the Messiah,

she began to sense the difference

between surviving

and living.


The man at the well knew all about her past,

yet, held out a future in which her past didn’t matter.

He knew why she went to the well at noontime,

yet, revealed himself to her as the Messiah.

“I am he, the one who is speaking with you.”


She was so moved,

so taken with this encounter

that she abandoned her water jar, returned to the town and said to the people,

“Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?” What a bold move!

What a courageous and unexpected step!


We have become so used to these stories

that their sharp edges and strange twists

have been worn safe and smooth.


We proclaim,

“Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him

because of the word of the woman who testified”

as if we are quoting the price of gas

or commenting on the weather.

Our eyes no longer widen with shock

at the sight and sound of this woman preaching the Good News.


But truth be told, the phrase,

Because of the Word of the Woman who Testified”

should be written in neon and accompanied by sirens.

It is an extraordinary statement

that should make us grab for the guardrail and stop in our tracks.


In a culture where women could not legally testify,

this woman became God’s witness.

In a world that forgot her name,

this woman discussed living water with the living God.

In a society that judged her invisible,

this woman saw what the disciples usually missed.

In a place where the voices of women were dismissed and ignored,

this woman spoke up.

In a town where she journeyed alone to the well,

this woman became an evangelist.

We never even know her name,

but like so many other women through the centuries,

the woman of Sychar preached the Good News even as the world proclaimed,

“Your life has no value.”

“Your words have no meaning.”

“Your voice can’t be heard.”


Come see a man who told me everything I have done!

Come and see! She said, to anyone who would listen.

Could he possibly be the Christ?

Using the same words

that Jesus used when he called Andrew and Simon into discipleship,

“Come and See”,

the woman of Sychar,

a Samaritan woman,

a scandalous woman,

calls her neighbors into discipleship.


Using these same words,

“Come and see”

improbable, invisible, unlikely,

even scandalous evangelists

call us into discipleship every day.

From hard places,

they call us to come, feel the work of the Spirit moving

wherever justice and mercy are practiced.

From desert places,

they call us to come, experience the power of living water

when those who hunger are nourished.

From narrow places,

where "who can speak" is closely guarded and carefully patrolled,

they call us to come,

embrace the liberating hope of the Encounter.


And if we can’t see or hear these unlikely evangelists--

If we have trouble discerning the words,

or understanding the message,

maybe it’s because we don’t spend enough time

lingering in those places where the edges are sharp

and the pathways are rough.

Maybe it’s because we’ve quit noticing those places

where the invisible gather

and Gospel stories still have the power to sting and surprise.


Come and see.


You know,

maybe it was her passion,

or maybe it was her boldness,

or maybe it was just something in the water,

but as improbable, unlikely,

and yes, scandalous as it may be…

they believed her!


© Susan Fleming McGurgan

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