Yesterday was World Water Day and the lectionary readings for today were also about water, including the story of Jesus and the woman at the well, all in the month of March, which is Women’s History Month in the US.
Women and girls are most likely to be dealing with water access and pollution problems as they are usually the ones most in charge of fetching, carrying, cooking, washing up, laundering, etc., especially in the parts of the world where clean hot and cold water do not run abundantly from the tap, as they do for me and my neighbors. Water is a necessity of life and access to it is a justice issue.
In the gospel story, it is a woman who comes to fetch water from the well of Jacob, her ancestor. She is in a socially vulnerable position, female, a Samaritan, sexually exploited. Yet Jesus asks her for a favor and engages in conversation with her, breaking with the norms of the society both on gender and ethnic grounds. What is even more astonishing is that he reveals his identity as the messiah to her and that she, despite her lack of community standing, becomes an apostle of the Good News, one who “goes and tells” others of salvation.
Preaching on this gospel often revolves around the woman’s sinfulness, because she has been married five times and is living with a man who isn’t her husband, but Jesus, although he tells the woman that he knows this about her, never condemns her for it or discusses any need for forgiveness. He offers her the living water of the Spirit, truth, salvation, and the love of God, which she gratefully receives and, energized, brings other people to meet Jesus so that they too can encounter him and believe that he is the messiah.
The woman, unnamed as are many of the women who encounter Jesus in the gospel, stands for all the other nameless women who are exploited or marginalized because of their gender or their ethnicity. Her modern descendants in spirit might live in Syria, Sudan, Ukraine, or might be victims of human trafficking in Thailand, Brazil, the US. God offers radical, unconditional love, not guilt or blame about their exploitation.
We are called to do the same.