… and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water… (John 4:6-7)
The gospels are full of people their society considered “losers,” “loons,” “crazy,” the outcasts and those righteously cast aside. Equally, the gospels record Jesus’ loving encounter with these forgotten ones and the effect his taking the time to engage these folks had on them.
While avoiding making victims of ourselves and wallowing in “pity parties” where we lick our wounds (or are constantly picking at them so they never heal), it does not take a genius to realize that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are the outcasts of our society and churches. Oh, we can blend in often enough, yet we remain religious “lepers,” theological “loons” and societal “losers.” Still the same Jesus, proclaimed in the gospels, awaits an encounter with us. He is willing to take time and change our lives. Perhaps, as we look at these “gospel losers,” we will not only find our condition reflected, but also claim the hope held out to us from the wounded hands of Jesus of Nazareth.
In John 4: 1-42, Jesus is tired. The Son of God was fatigued, worn out by weather and walking, a comforting thought in and of itself: Jesus knows what it is like to be tired and in need.
A Samaritan woman comes to draw water at noon. This is unusual since water was drawn early in the morning when it was cooler and an earthenware jug would not be such a burden. But here she comes at the hottest part of the day. Why? A hint is given in verses 16-18:
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” She answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.”
Five husbands! Sounds serious. Perhaps she comes to the well at this time of day so as to avoid ridicule and withering glares from the other women in the town. But stop for a moment. A woman could not divorce her husband. She had few or no legal rights. Only the husband could bring about a divorce. Why was this woman cast aside five times? That remains a mystery. But what must such treatment have done to her self-esteem, her sense of her own worth? It must have taken a beating since she is only living with the man she is with now. Could it be that so many rejections had left her feeling she was not good enough to marry, therefore simply being someone’s “plaything” was all she was good for?
Prior to Jesus asking the Samaritan woman to call her husband, he speaks with her about the living water he had to give, the refreshing and cleansing water of his gospel, his love, his mercy, his presence. But she will be unable to receive this gift until she realizes her need of it.
“Sir, give me this water, so that I may never have to be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” (verse 15)
It is not difficult to believe that Jesus, in listening to this statement, also heard a plea: Please give me this water so that I no longer will have to suffer verbal abuse or feel shunned and alone.
In calling for her husband, Jesus is preparing her to receive herself again, her true and renewed self that will be found only in him. Here is a man who will not use her or abuse her, who will not cheapen her but enrich her, who will not cast her aside but raise her up in dignity and self-respect.
“When (the Messiah) comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
From that moment, she is changed. Whether her standing among the townsfolk was improved we do not know. But no one ever met Jesus and left him unchanged. She runs back into the town, telling anyone who would listen about the man who had told her all about herself. They, in turn, go, see for themselves, and believe.
So, what does this story mean for us?
How often do you and I go to the well at noontime, trying to hide who we are, trying to avoid the anger and hatred and misunderstanding of our sisters and brothers, gay or straight? How many of us have had our self-image and dignity battered by those “defenders of the faith” who conveniently bow before the letter of the law while tearing our the heart of that same law? Too many times, if truth be told.
Yet there sits Jesus waiting for us. He thirsts for us, for our trust, our love, our devotion, obedience, friendship and confidence. And if we satisfy his thirst, his desire, with all of this, what do we receive? Not “what,” but “who,” namely himself.
Jesus desires to restore us to ourselves and to union with him. He longs to see us healed and whole. He wishes to wash us clean from sin and hurts with the life-giving blood and water that richly flowed from his heart.
But the choice is ours. Do we turn away from him, believing the lies that tell us we are an abomination in his eyes, that we are not fit to associate with him, or do we take his hand and walk with him, allowing his voice to drown out the hurtful and narrow-minded foolishness, allowing his eyes to clothe us with restored dignity and hope, allowing his hands to caress away the pain and shame, and allowing his heart to call us back to ourselves?
The choice rests with each one of us. By his grace, may we choose wisely…and drink deeply.
Tom Yeshua is the pen name of Thomas E.L. Cloutier OFS, a transitional deacon who taught theology for 30 years at Nashua (N.H.) Catholic Regional Junior High School. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Don Bosco College in Newton, N.J., and a master’s in divinity and theology from St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, Mass.