Sadly, I have heard way too many homilies. . .read way too many articles, reflections and blogs that speak of the woman at the well as “sinner.” I prefer to think of her as Girlfriend at the Well.
First of all, I’d just like to make a comment on how many of my favorite Gospel stories don’t name the person involved. . . .
. . .The woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8). . I love this story. . .It takes two to commit adultery. . .What happened to the other party?. . . And how is it that she was “caught in adultery?” . . . Were they watching?. . . .But I digress. My point is, this woman doesn’t have a name. Or that is to say, the Gospel writer never gave her one.
. . .The woman who washed Jesus’ feet. . .Luke never gives her a name (Luke 7:36-50). . .She is only named as “sinful woman.”
. . . We read about Peter’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:30). But we never know her name. . . the Canaanite woman (Matt 15:21-28). . . Well, I won’t go there just yet. . but, again, my point is that she is nameless.
Even the sorrowing women of Jerusalem (Luke 23:27-31) are nameless. . . . . But I’ll bet one of them was my girlfriend. You know her, the one Jesus spoke to at Jacob’s well. . . .And isn’t it funny how the Gospel writer can name the well but not the woman?. . .But I digress again. . .
What is it about this Gospel Girlfriend that just keeps me thinking, keeps me faithful?
She was Samaritan. There was much tension between the Jews and the Samaritans. Basically, this meant she was of mixed blood. Hybrid. I know this reality all to well. Of two cultures. . .being forced to choose between the two. . .In reality you are not either/or. You are both/and.
In her day, it wasn’t socially acceptable to be mixed. Mixed blood equals unclean. You see, to mix and mingle with the Assyrians meant that you would have taken on some of their ways.
The hour was about noon.
And so, why was she at the well at noon? I would assume that most women would gather at the well first thing in the morning to get water for the chores of the day. . .cooking, cleaning, bathing. I would tend to think that this was more than just a task that needed to be done. I’ll bet anything that this was a chance for the women to get caught up on their news. And I bet the little ones were probably running and chasing each other around and around that well as children are prone to do.
I’ll bet these ladies invited each other over for this and that. I’ll bet that on the days they were unable to go to the well. . .due to illness or being out of town. . .they missed it tremendously. And I’ll bet they were missed. “Where is so-and-so? Why didn’t she come today?”
My point is that the well wasn’t just a place to draw water. It was the social hub of the time. It was the communication network. It was place for women to gather and share friendships.
So. . . why does this Gospel Girlfriend go to the well at noon?
Probably because the other gals didn’t see her as a friend. She would rather bear the heat of the noon day sun than bear the hostile stares of the other women.
Sometimes the worse thing you can do to a person is fail to acknowledge them, fail to acknowledge they exist. Sometimes the worse thing you can do to a person is force them to the margins.
The Cuban-American theologian, Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, speaks of the marginalized being optional people.
Sadly, the people of her day saw Girlfriend at the well as one of those optional people.
The Gospel doesn’t tell us if she had children or not. If she did, this is another reason she wouldn’t have gone to the well in the morning. If she would have brought her children along they, too, would have experienced the hostility. Her children, if she had any, would also have been considered optional people. Like any good mother, she would have wanted to protect her children. Going to the well at noon was one way to protect them.
Or maybe she had no children. To be unable to bear children was reason enough for a man to divorce her. Maybe she had so many husbands because the men didn’t want a woman who wouldn’t bear them a child. A woman who couldn’t bear children was an optional woman. And maybe her husbands just opted out.
Maybe she never formally married the one she was with because she was just fed up with the whole system, the red tape. No one liked her anyway. Maybe it was just easier to not get married at all. This is so sad because society taught her to say for herself that she was optional.
Isn’t that the saddest thing? Isn’t so sad when others tell you who you are and you end up believing it? An optional woman.
The sad thing is, my girlfriend is still standing at the well. She is there and many refuse to acknowledge she exists. I’m sure you’ve seen her. Why haven’t we dared to speak to her in public?
Maybe she is an undocumented immigrant. I’ve heard many call her optional.
Maybe she doesn’t speak English. I’ve heard many say that they won’t speak to her until she learn the language. Most opt not to learn her language. Most opt not to bother to teach her their language. So, communicating with her, acknowledging she even exists, is optional.
Maybe she’s that woman locked up in some nursing home. You know her, the woman the church will visit on Christmas and Easter, but forgotten the rest of the year. You see, remembering her more than that is optional.
Or maybe she is that young woman with new and innovative ideas. . . .but we opt to ignore her because. . .well, she’s too young to know. . .
Maybe she is not Christian. I’ve heard many opt her out from the get-go
Most reading this blog probably never even heard of the women of Chiapas. You can’t get much more optional that than, when people don’t even know you exist.
Or maybe she is Mother Earth herself. God knows we’ve really treated her as optional.
After her poetic dialogue with the Word Made Flesh this Gospel Girlfriend went out and told everyone about Jesus. In fact, she was single handedly the best PR Jesus could have had at the time.
Could you imagine what our neighborhoods, our church, our world would be like if we opted her back in?
This woman, she is my Girlfriend, my Comadre. I hope she is for you, too.
If that well ever just gets to deep for you to be able to handle, just give Girlfriend a call. She’s an expert with centuries of well experience. And she left her water jar there, just in case you need it.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -Video: Women of Chiapas
Video: Woman at the Well