Interestingly, as soon as she offers a question in response Jesus tell her that she should be asking him for a drink. I don’t know how she was feeling that day but I think I’d be fairly flabbergasted. “Wait…what?…I thought you…but you don’t have…wha…what’s going on here?” Jesus continues, he understands what he has to offer her but she’s still clueless. In typical Jesus fashion he talks about the gift of God and living water in a very veiled rabbinical way. It seems she thinks he’s confused so she gives him a history lesson about how the well got there. At the very least they are now having a pretty lively and interesting conversation. Again, Jesus, in veiled prose, tells her that people have to return to this physical well again and again, but he has this other water that she neither knows of or understands.
Still confused she asks for Jesus’s water so that she doesn’t have to come back every day to draw water from Jacob’s well. Then Jesus says, go get your husband and then come back here with him. But the woman says she doesn’t have a husband and Jesus knows this and tips his hand: “you’ve had 5 husbands and the man you are with now is not your husband.” And here it is, the best candidate for why she comes to the well at the time of day when it is so hot you could air fry potato cakes. She’s been with no less than 6 different men. We can’t say for sure that the man she is with now is an intimate partner but regardless and in her culture, having that many husbands and now a roommate that isn’t a husband doesn’t amount to a lot of honor. Actually, a great number of commentaries on the subject will point out that this relationship is outside the Hebrew and Biblical law regarding sexual ethics. Here is the shame that keeps her on the outside of the community. Have you ever changed the subject when someone has said something that has made you uncomfortable? Interestingly that is exactly what the woman seems to do here: Jesus reminds her of her relationship history and she quickly points out that Jesus must be a prophet and then asks a question about places to worship God!
There also seems to be a tie between her romantic partners and Jacob’s well. Neither seem to be satisfying. This is a very interesting way to set up a spectrum of human need and desire. Water on one end and relational intimacy at the other. Both are massively important parts of life. We’ll have to save the depth of Jesus’ framing of our needs and desires in this way for another time, but I think the point here is that what Jesus is offering is a connection so deep and life giving that the only way to begin to describe it is with water and intimacy. Life and meaning are only found completely satisfying as we find both in relation to our Creator.
Notice that Jesus’s tactic doesn’t include calling out her string of relationships as sinful. He sees her. He knows her story. He offers hope and meaning. He doesn’t point out her sin or demand repentance. Instead, he offers her a relationship. One that isn’t like any of her other relationships. And please do not believe that the point here is that Jesus is specifically calling out romantic relationships as “not good.” Instead, the lesson is that most all of the good things we experience in life are incomplete or at least temporary—where God’s relationship to us is an invitation to the eternal and infinite things beginning where we are *right now* and not how we hope we will be at some point.
What if we approached shame like this?
Brandon completed his M.A in Counseling from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2009. Since then he has worked in community mental health agencies and private counseling centers. Aside from serving as the Director for ICP he also has a private counseling practice. Brandon lives in Louisville with his wonderful wife and children.