‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’
Today the Church commemorates the Samaritan woman at the well whose story is told in the Gospel of John 4:4–26. When we meet in our story, she is tired— tired of coming to the well, tired of putting down the bucket, tired of carrying it back to town. She is probably tired of heat, not that cold is any better. The other day as I sat at my computer thinking about this interminable pandemic, I thought of her. I was tired. The Orthodox and Eastern Catholic traditions call her “the luminous one,” Photine.
I admit the place where I connect with her isn’t her luminosity, but in her fed-up-ness.
I meet Photine in her slumped shoulders. Give me this water. I’m sick of coming here again and again. I’m sick of spouses not being able to visit their beloved ones because they have COVID and can’t enter a nursing facility. I’m sick of the small disagreements about what practices to share around safety. I’m worried about suspending these practices, just as I am worried about continuing to maintain them.
Very often, this woman’s story is told in such a way that her own choices, and even her own agency, become obscured. She is narrowly defined by her sexual past—her repartee with Jesus about how she’s not married to the man she’s with and the five partners she had before him, seem to drown out anything else that might be true about her. While women in the ancient world certainly did have limited choices, our contemporary tellings of their lives can have a “disaster-tourism” quality to them. If we talk about her only in terms of how she was a victim of her circumstances, we miss the fiery gift she has for us.
Photine is luminous. Not because she is a passive vessel through whom God can shine, but because she sets things on fire with truth. I imagine her raised eyebrow and arch pronouncement when Jesus offers living water: “Sir, you have no bucket.” Ahem.
Jesus answers her back on her own terms: if you knew who I was, you’d want to know more. Theological dialogue ensues: Give me this water always! She’s hooked; she has told truth and received it. She proclaims Jesus to her community. She’s an evangelist.
Give me this water always.
With her, I can remember it is waiting for me.