A Cup or a Bucket

I’ve always loved the story of the Woman at the Well. I first experienced it as a teen, during a summer spent teaching Backyard Bible Clubs. Once a week for ten weeks, I told the woman’s story. Each time, in a different backyard to a different group of children. The kids and I especially appreciated the visuals, in which a sweet-faced Samaritan woman gazed at Christ from eyes filled with questions.

I remember thinking, She looks just as uncertain about letting this Stranger into her life as I was!

During the fall of my junior year in high school, I gave my life to the Lord. I’d been attending a teen Bible study taught by a young Christian man, who won our hearts with his gentle friendliness and clear teaching. Through the influence of our teacher and my older sister, I became a believer.

Soon, I began attending church and spending time with fellow Christians. Though the folks I met at church and study and youth events were always encouraging and kind, I couldn’t help but feel I’d entered a strange new world.

I wonder if that’s how the Samaritan woman felt on the day she encountered Christ.

It began like any other day. Since she was an outcast, she approached the well late in the morning, after the daughters and mothers and grandmothers of the town had returned to their homes. The passage in John 4 lets us know that she’d been divorced or put away by five different men and now lived with a man who was not her husband. Either the man had refused to marry her, or he was already married to someone else. No respectable woman would have wanted anything to do with her.

Most men, too, would have shunned her. In spite of the fact that some of them should have publicly shared her guilt. They took refuge in a culture which under-valued and demeaned women. Little did they know how far they’d strayed from God’s measure of the value of each individual.

Jesus ignored these social mores and did something completely shocking and revolutionary. He approached the woman in public and spoke with her. Not only did He speak with her, He asked her to give Him a drink.

I think it’s interesting that He asked her to serve Him.

Being needed is a powerful motivation within a woman’s heart, but few of us enjoy all the daily chores that come with being caretakers. However, our relationship with the ones we serve transforms performing those household duties into acts of love.

The Bible doesn’t say what events set this woman on her lonely path in life. But however it began, I can imagine she’d gotten to the point where she looked on the homes around her, homes filled with friends and relatives and precious children, with envy. Perhaps she wished she were drawing water for just such a household.

Instead, she was asked to draw water for the Lord, Himself.

Then Jesus used something the woman would understand, thirsting for water, in order to introduce spiritual truths to her. Their initial interaction went like this:

The Samaritan woman said to Him, “How is it that you, being a Jew, ask me for a drink?”

Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”

She said to Him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water?”

At first, she related to Him on a concrete level. She couldn’t understand why He’d asked her for a drink if He was hiding some secret stash of fresh water.

As their conversation continued, He threw out what seemed to be a completely irrelevant request, “Go call your husband and come here.”

Now Jesus was stepping into even more controversial territory. The woman responded, “I have no husband.” Not exactly the whole truth, but all she wanted Him to know.

Jesus said, “You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.”

And, surprisingly, she didn’t walk away.

They talked further, and the woman mentioned being told of the Messiah, who would come to explain all things to them. At that time, Jesus fully revealed Himself to her with the statement, “I who speak to you am He.”At those words, the woman ran to get the people she knew best, some men of the city.

And here’s the part I find truly amazing. She said to them, “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?”

Why was it a good thing that Jesus knew everything about her?

Not only the damage six men had done to her heart, but her own sinful thoughts and acts, too.

I’m convinced that somehow—through the look in His eyes or the tenderness in His voice or the respect in His manner—Jesus communicated this thought:

I see all that you are, the good and the bad, and I cherish you anyway.

He doesn’t join the ranks of our critics, who unfairly judge our words and actions. He doesn’t need to create some false image of us as saints who never do anything wrong. He clearly sees the reality of the true us: all that He intended us to be and how we have both fulfilled and fallen short of His vision.

And Jesus loves us anyway. I love that about Him!

The Bible account ends with, “Many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman.”

So she served Him well that day. And I’m sure her life was never the same.

Perhaps she could have echoed the words of this beautiful poem by Nancy Spiegelberg:

Lord, I crawled across the barrenness To You With my empty cup, Uncertain in asking Any small drop of refreshment. If only I had known You better, I’d have come running With a bucket.

About the Author:

Renee Ann Smith teaches literature in a Christian high school by day and reads and reviews Christian fiction novels by night. She writes about the people who have inspired her on her blog Doorkeeper at http://reneeannsmith.com/.