The middle of the day brings with it contrasts – both literally and figuratively. When the bright sun shines directly overhead, distinct shadows form around us, leaving sharp lines between light and dark. We often feel most-alive at mid-day, when we’re involved with projects or work. But at noontime, we can also be distracted by cares and concerns, bigger than we can handle by ourselves. Milder than in some places, the noonday sun in Samaria can be demanding, causing people to seek shade where it might be found. Even livestock move to the shadows under low tree branches until the respite of early evening. Though relief might come from cool water, a walk to the well is usually postponed until the daytime heat has passed. Especially if one plans on carrying jars heavy with water back the house.
In spite of this, and in fact because of it, she comes to the well at mid-day. This way, she can mostly count on no one being here. Back in ancient days, Jacob’s well was covered by a large rock. It was so large, it could only be lifted by several people working together. Therefore, no one could come alone, and take more than his or her fair share from the depths below. One could only satisfy a need for water in the presence of others, who would help lift the heavy stone cover. The Samaritan woman is glad it’s different now, for she can come alone to draw from this deep well.
On one noonday visit, under the hot sun, she finds an unexpected stranger by the well. He appears tired, and asks for a drink. She does not yet see how this moment connects with a larger pattern. He thirsts, just as he will thirst again on another hot noonday. Both now and then, he thirsts as he does the work of his Father. Paradoxically, just as will happen on that later hot afternoon, he thirsts while at the same offering living water to those who need it.
He seems to know more about her than she could ever have guessed. And his statements are provocative. Slowly, she discerns that he is saying something like this: “You have come here in the safety of noonday. For you assume no one else will be around, when you raise water from the depths of Jacob’s well. Yet, you have a deep well within you. How far into the depths of your inner well, are you willing to go with me?”
This posting is based on my sermon for Lent 3, Sunday March 19, which can be accessed by clicking here. In my sermon, I quote the David Whyte poem, “The Well of Grief.” The image above is another one by the gifted James Tissot, and reflects an intentionally faithful, late 19th century, perception of what the study of archaeology tells us about ancient biblical sites.