Jesus would be out of luck, were he to try to get me to give him a drink of water from the community well. He wouldn’t be able to entice me into a conversation. A foreigner, alone, the dust of the road still on his feet – I would look at him and see danger.
I’ve had some unpleasant experiences when alone with strange men in public places. Among others, there was the flasher, there was the cocky young man who tried to grab my breast, there was the proselytizer who would not take “no” for an answer, and there was the purse snatcher.
Why would I risk engaging with this stranger? What could possibly entice me? I have a life, duties and obligations, commitments. All I would see when I looked at him would be the possibility of dangerous entanglements, of threat – at the very least, of work.
What makes the Samaritan woman willing to risk a conversation with him? From her story it seems like she had had her own terrible experiences with men. Divorced four times – unmarried in her current relationship – alone at the well at noon – all these things indicate abandonment, pain. And yet she still responds to Jesus when he asks her for a drink, albeit guardedly.
Perhaps it’s a lively curiosity, perhaps a tendency to quickly get in over her head. Or maybe she just cannot abide by boundaries or conventions. Whatever it is, when she looks at the stranger she sees a person. She sees a person she might enjoy.
In thinking about the tale of Jesus and the Samaritan woman from the perspective of the woman, I am reminded once again of how God is often to be discovered just outside our comfort zones. We are walking along, minding our own business, when something unexpected intrudes. Do we turn toward it or turn away?
It isn’t always very safe to turn toward it. But I am reminded that I’ve also had some good experiences when I have met strange men while alone in public spaces. There was the young black man who calmed me down and got me to the right bus stop when I was frightened at having wandered into South Chicago from the nearby university where I was a student. There was the older farmer in Wisconsin who gave me a ride when I was hitchhiking, telling me about his granddaughters and admonishing me to be safer. There were the self-styled hobos making their yearly circuit of travels who played gin rummy with me on the church lawn all one Wyoming summer.
God outside the comfort zone – in the stranger with a parched throat – how do I recognize the need to turn toward him? How do I access the danger? Perhaps it is not a person at all, but rather an idea held by people I don’t usually agree with. Maybe it is a different point of view. How do I see the possibilities? How do I let myself be drawn?
The hour is now coming when we will worship God neither in Jerusalem nor on the mountain – neither in the synagogue, the church nor the mosque. We will worship God in spirit and in truth. How will we recognize the strange man who knows the way to do this?
Featured image: The Woman at the Well, by Rembrandt