Reflection on John 4:5-42 by Rev. Dr. Kate Hennessy-Keimig
We humans are by and large social creatures who do not take well to being isolated. Cultural and religious groups who use shunning, or separation from the group, as a consequence of negative behavior understand this well and use its impact to good effect. In our own criminal justice system, a person already being punished for a crime can be further penalized by being “put in solitary” for a period of time.
Other than when Harry Potter dons his cloak of invisibility, there is rarely a time when we don’t want to be visible to others, to be known and appreciated as unique individuals beyond stereotypes of gender, age, race ability or orientation. We have deep needs to speak and be heard, to make connections, to be linked to one another. So vital is this bond that infants who do not have the opportunity to make healthy human attachments in their early lives can fail to develop, fail to thrive and can even die.
It really is all about the relationship, the connection. Jesus got it. It’s all over the Gospels. It’s there in his encounter with the Samaritan woman. This woman who came to the well alone in the heat of the day for some reason… an outcast even among outcasts perhaps? We don’t know. In the Gospel story, Jesus says she has had five husbands, and the “one she had now” was not her husband, but we can only speculate on what that might mean. We might impose meanings; we think we might know her story. Was she simply a user of men? Or had she been the one used? Picked up and thrown away by them for whatever reason. Perhaps it was because she could not bear children, which in that time was a shameful failing on a woman’s part and could indeed get her summarily divorced, perhaps even repeatedly.
But in the end it really doesn’t matter, because at the well that day, there was simply a woman …and Jesus saw her. He saw her and he knew her for more than her isolated self, and more than her shame. He saw beyond whatever role she had been cast in, or even imposed on herself in self-protection. He told her “everything she had ever done” not to judge or shame her but simply because he saw the whole of her just as she was. And being seen, she entered into relationship with him and saw who he truly was as well, God with her there in that moment. Transformed by that moment of connection, she finds herself running toward the community to share her story, no longer shameful, invisible and isolated.
We too encounter and are encountered by the living God. In those encounters our authentic selves are laid bare….our souls in all their glory in the image of God as we were created, but also in our weakness and our sinfulness. And all of this is the Good News. Jesus answers the question asked by the people in Exodus, “Is the Lord among us or not?” He is not only among us, but becomes us, so he can sit with a woman at a well in the heat of the noonday sun and tells her, as he tells us all we have ever done, who he is and who we can be.
I believe that by virtue of our baptismal covenant, we too are called to truly see one another. Those we bump up against every day who are invisible, cloaked and hiding. Some are coming to the well at noonday by choice to avoid the shaming of the crowd; some have had their isolation foist upon them. Some are still hopeful that one day they will belong again; others have given up all hope that their thirst for community will ever be slaked. What would happen if we really saw them? Would they be transformed? Would they too know that they too are seen, known and beloved of God? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to find out?