Chapter 7: At the Well
Jesus sat by the well and watched the Samaritan woman approach. (John 4:1-30) He was aware of the kind of life she had led and of her unquenched thirst for life. He promptly asked here a loaded question. Jesus knew that the woman was aware of a good deal of the truth of life, so with his question he set out to steer her into recognizing the truth she had already experienced. He said to her, "Give me a drink."
In that day an age, a request of an unaccompanied woman by a man apart from other company for a drink would be a request with distinct sexual overtones. For a man to ask anything of an unaccompanied woman would be considered at least bold, if not flirtatious. It may be true that not everyone in the world at that time was aware of the sexual connotation of the words "living water", but it is obvious from the continuation of this discourse that this woman was well aware. There can be no doubt, if we believe the writer of the gospel to have any sense, that this discourse between Jesus and the woman at the well, begins on an explicitly sexual footing. Preceding this discourse in the gospel (John 3), we find the ideas of new birth, and the bride and bridegroom introduced. It is not unreasonable to postulate that the whole of this gospel is contrived liked a deepening revelation, each story meant to draw the reader closer to a "gnossos" or realization that appears to be recognition of Jesus as a son of a living God.
The coy answer of the woman to the question indicates that she is aware of the sexual implications of the question. When she counters Christ with "What, you a Jew, are asking me a Samaritan for a drink?", the question is not incredulous as some analysts have suggested, since later on in the discourse, the woman seems quite proud of her heritage and firm in her beliefs. The question is not sarcastic either, since the woman is well aware of their common ancestry. The truth is that the woman's response is coy. She wants to be sure of her ground. Her response to Jesus indicates that she is aware of the sexual overtones in his request but is not sure of his intentions. It is she who coyly steers the discourse toward the concept of living water. She is well aware that the Jews believe that the living water is to be found only among Jews, and that they rarely have anything to do with alien women and in fact, consider them to have no life in them.
Jesus' response is bold and openly sexual. He brings the concept of living water into the conversation. He replies, "If only you knew what God was offering and who it is that is saying to you: Give me a drink. You would have been the one to ask, and he would have given you living water."
Jesus response puts the conversation firmly on sexual ground and introduces his claim to be the very thing the woman has searched for all her life - the true living water that begins in God. His response indicates to the woman that she does not fully understand what it is she seeks, and that if she did, she would have recognized it in Jesus. His response hints at his willingness to couple with her, and yet indicates to her that she does not fully understand the truth of sexual union or marriage. He is in effect offering her the living water that she suspected he was, but is telling her that living water is a good deal more than she imagines.
The woman is startled by his arrogance, aroused by his suggestion, and definitely intrigued by his possibility. She is coy at first, referring him back to the well, and then bold, as she addresses his arrogant claim. "You have no bucket sir, and the well is deep: how could you get this living water? Are you a greater man than our father Jacob who gave us this well and drank from it himself with his sons and cattle?" Here she is telling Jesus that she is interested in his proposition but not if he thinks he is superior to her just because he is a Jew, and she is a Samaritan. She introduces the idea of their common heritage as a leveling concept: to elevate her identity and bring his down to her level. She might be entertaining the idea of accepting his advances but not just because he is a Jew. She is proud of her heritage and firm in her belief. This woman has a very high sense of self worth, and it is exactly this that Jesus is addressing. He is well aware that the woman has not found a man worthy of her, able to meet her needs, able to give her the unknown life that she seeks. The woman's faith in herself and her understanding of living water is what has brought her to this point in her life. Jesus is attempting to deepen her understanding and couple her faith in herself to a faith in God.
Jesus completely ignores her leveling concept and elevates himself even higher. He replies, "Whoever drinks this water will get thirsty again; but anyone who drinks the water that I shall give will never be thirsty again: the water that I shall give will turn into a spring inside him, welling up to eternal life." This statement is explicitly sexual, and for a Jew, openly blasphemous. Jesus is leading her beyond Judaism, beyond her heritage, out to come face to face with the truth of life. Jesus fully recognizes the remarkable faith of the woman in herself and is now leading her out to the higher ground.
Jesus is claiming to be able to give the woman the union of living water that becomes the permanent union that is an unstoppable spring of living water. At this point the woman is willing to surrender to Jesus's advances just to give him a chance to prove his claims. She is not certain that Jesus even understands the claims he has made, and she is not certain that he can make good on them, but she is infatuated with his arrogance, and has enough faith in herself to believe that she can receive the living water unto life. She has spent her whole life in a daring search for a man that could fulfill her. She was daring enough to ignore the law in her search for a fulfilling marriage. Her faith in herself was sound, but her understanding is based on intellectual misperception. Her answer reflects her faith in herself but also her refusal to surrender her intellectual misperception.
The woman replies, "Sir, give me some of that water, so that I may never get thirsty and never have to come here again to draw water." This answer indicates the woman's willingness to couple with Christ, but it is not the willingness of surrender, but rather the willingness of experimentation. The answer is again coy. The woman keeps the conversation in a poetic realm by staying within the verbal boundary of the image of the water and the well. Her answer is coy, because it is not explicitly worded; and although she indicates her willingness to couple with Jesus, she reserves the right to judge whether or not he makes good on his claim.
Jesus has drawn the woman out to the turning point of faith. That turning point is recognition. Can the woman recognize the truth of Jesus Christ, the truth of herself, the truth of humanity, and the truth of God? In the west, we are all at that turning point in this age. Will we recognize the implications of the phenomenon of the legendary Jesus Christ, the truth of ourselves and our idea of God? If like the woman, we reserve the right to test the validity of the experience against this present life, we will not recognize the truth. We cannot test eternal life against this present life. Our intellect cannot weigh the validity of the truth against our present intellectual misperception. The recognition of the truth of the legendary Christ is meant to reform our intellect into rapture and birth from this world. We may not test the experience of the real and most known God against the experience of our imagined and unknown God. We may not bring our imagination into the experience without becoming lost again in our imagination. The dragon which sprang from the living water of us, to hunt us to death down through the ages, is our imagined idea of God based on a misperception. If the truth of a Christ rebuilds our intellect, we will be born alive from this world without dying. To recognize a Christ is birth. The aspiration is ours. We should realize it and move on.
We are born into this world living. We lose life through the insidious thinking disorder which permeates this world. The Christ aspiration has come in the flesh to cure our thinking disorder and restore our intellect. We are intellectually coy with him and cannot find the life he offers. The bridegroom cannot give life to the bride unless she drops her veil. Our veil is our present idea of our God and ourselves.
Jesus replies to the woman, "Go and call your husband and come back here." Here he is offering her life. Joined to a husband and reformed intellectually by a realization of the truth of the legendary Christ the woman would be born alive from her present world. Here Christ takes the veil off the conversation. He does not stay within the imagery of the well and the water. He reveals that his intentions are explicitly sexual. He is no longer veiling his words in poetic images. He wants to be certain that the woman understands the sexual content of their conversation and the true meaning of the living water.
The woman replies, "I have no husband." Her answer indicates that she understands that marriage is eternal life, but it also indicates that she has misunderstood Christ's intentions. She tells Christ that she has no husband, because she wants to make him her husband. She is willing to try marriage again, because she believes that if she finds the right man, she may have eternity. She fully understands that her first five marriages were not marriages, because marriage is eternal life. She is willing to try again and couple with Christ to see if he is the man who can give her the eternal marriage she seeks. She does not think that she has failed to find eternal marriage through any fault of her own. She places the entire blame for the failure of her marriages to become eternal on the inadequacy of the men involved.
Now Christ drops his veil and reveals himself to the woman. He replies, "You are right to say: I have no husband, for although you have had five, the one you have now is not your husband. You spoke the truth there." Here Christ reveals that he knows all about the woman, even though he has never met her, and at the same time, he affirms that her perception that marriage is meant to be eternal, is correct.
Now the woman's interest is piqued. She calls Christ a prophet and asks him to explain why she cannot find the eternal marriage she seeks. Her answer also reflects that she is willing to accept the idea that maybe the Jews know something that the Samaritans don't after all.
The woman replies, "I see you are a prophet sir. Our fathers practiced their religion on this mountain, while you say that Jerusalem is the place where one ought to practice their religion." In the context of her reply, Jesus now goes on to explain to her why her marriages have failed to be eternal. The Greek word commonly translated as spirit means intellect, or consciousness, and the word worship really means recognize and make known, or admit to. Fundamentally, what Christ says to the woman is: you must recognize God, and through God, recognize yourself, and then when you have recognized yourself, you will be restored to the proper relativity to God. When you recognize God, and through God, recognize yourself, you will be able to become the eternal marriage you seek. Christ is saying to the woman: your body or cosmos is complete and capable of eternal marriage, but your intellect is not and can only become fit for the eternal marriage through your reception of the eternal truth of God. Christ is bidding the woman to reform her intellect by recognizing him. The woman is aware that Christ is indicating that it is through the intellectual recognition of him that her intellect may be reformed and completed and made fit for marriage. Her reply makes us certain of her understanding.
The woman replies, "I know that messiah, that is a Christ, is coming; and when he comes he will tell us everything." The woman is asking: are you the one who can reform my intellect and make me fit for eternal marriage, and are you the one who reveals everything we need to know about idea of God? Are you the son born of my highest aspirations? Jesus replies, "I am he."
To every western Christian in this age, the legendary Christ is saying, "I am he." Will we recognize our highest aspirations in him at last, or will we continue saying like the woman at the end of the passage, "I wonder if he is the Christ?" We must make the implications of the phenomenon of the legendary Christ our intellectual reform, our holy spirit, our completed intellect. We must end our rebellion against ourselves.