Searing midday heat pressed into the little house, forcing its way around the edges of the heavy blankets that were hung over the windows and doors. Reluctantly, Sadie rose.
“It’s time to go to the well,” Were the words only in her mind, or had she spoken them? No matter. The man stretched on the cot across from her heard nothing; fatigue and drink had claimed him.
Sadie walked to the doorway and pulled the heavy blanket aside. A merciless sun was baking the street into dusty overdone-ness, but at least it was quiet… deserted, for no one chose to be outside at this hour. But she had no choice. She sighed, turned and reached for the water pot. Taking a quick glance into the darkened gloom of her house – it was hard to think of it as a home – she knew she would not be missed and stepped into the blazing heat, letting the blanket fall in place behind her.
She balanced the large water pot on her shoulder with one hand. Sadie’s hand, studied closely, bore marks of hardship. It had been roughly treated, as if its owner cared little for its welfare. Fleshy, less than clean, with scars from cooking and torn, ragged nails, it presented a minuscule reflection of the woman herself.
She trudged along, eyes down, face set in a hard, unwavering stare. Voices filtered from the houses which she passed – pots were scraped of their contents as women cleaned up after the midday meal, children good-naturedly squabbled amongst themselves, fathers spoke in stern, low tones – but the voices did not seem to reach her, for she did not even glance aside. A clucking chicken startled her into a quick sidestep, but her head never raised; her eyes never lifted from the dust.
Wrapped in the invisible world of her own thoughts, she turned the corner onto the broader thoroughfare which held the booths of the merchants. Her eyes lifted once. No one was about and awnings were dropped to shield produce from the heat. She hurried on alone, when suddenly the air was rent by the mocking jeer of a young boy, and a well-aimed rock glanced off the hand that held her pot, sending a jolt of pain up her arm.
“Saaaaa-die’s a baaaaddy!” The cruel, singsong chant rang through the stillness. A mother’s arm reached out of a door, grabbed the youngster by his ear, and hauled him into the doorway.
“Haven’t I told you never to speak the name of that woman?” The high-pitched words resounded in the still, hot air. “Nor even to look at her?” The shrill voice continued, but it was clear there was to be no reprimand or apology for the thrown stone.
Tears filled her eyes, and a throbbing blue wound proved the marksmanship of her attacker. Sadie… how I hate my name! Fueled by anger and despair, tears spilled from once lovely eyes onto her coarsened cheeks. But her steps did not falter, her path did not swerve, for there would be no sympathy for her in any of these homes. Flexing her hand, she resettled the pot on her shoulder.
Thoughts buried beneath her outer hardness were surfacing as she made her way along the street through shimmering waves of heat. What a waste my life has been… a tired, insignificant torment. A sardonic chuckle formed in her mind and echoed in a shudder of her shoulders. But there was no way out, not now, not for her. No way out, and no way back, only daily despair stretching ahead with no end. She shook her head as if to banish the thoughts.
Voices reached her. Now near the center of her city, she knew the voices were men in a group coming toward her. Men… well, she knew men. A cynical optimism lightened her trudge into a walk reminiscent of girlhood. Perhaps…perhaps I can improve on my circumstances here.
As she turned the corner into the Street of the Well, she saw them, and instantly the girlish mincing was gone from her step. JEWS! Just what I need! Sadie lowered her head, bit her lip and prepared herself for jeers, and perhaps more rocks. When the men noticed her, they crossed immediately to the far side of the street, but otherwise ignored her. Their interest lay elsewhere, and she heard words of “shops” and “meat” as they passed quickly by.
Ah, yes. Even a Jew will take care of his stomach first. Crossing the open square that was the focal point of her city, she took the last few steps to the well.
A stranger sat there, his body a picture of weariness; his garments dusty and revealing poverty she had no wish to share. Even with his back toward her, she knew he was a Jew, probably with the hungry ones. It’s unusual for Jews to stop in Sychar… She shrugged the thought aside and set about filling the water pot.
“Give me a drink.” It was a command, though gently given, and startlingly intense in its demand.
She whirled and saw a man with common features: dark bushy hair, an aquiline nose, sun-darkened face, and calm, gray eyes that conveyed compassion in his gaze. He looked straight at her; there was no question but that the words were directed to her.
“How is it that you, being a Jew, would ask drink from me, a woman of Samaria? The Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.” Her own shrill voice startled her in the quiet noontime. It was cold, rude. But she seldom spoke with any person, and who was this man, anyway?
He looked directly into her eyes as he answered. “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that said to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked of him, and he would have given you living water.”
He’s been out in the sun too long. Sadie couldn’t believe her luck… a stoning and a crazy man, all within an hour. Through her mind flashed the words, “Answer a fool according to his folly.” I’ll humor him.
“Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. From where, then, are you going to get living water?” Living water – what an idea! “Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob who left us this well, and drank from it himself, enough even for his many children and his great herds of cattle?”Sadie was starting to laugh now, at the ridiculousness of the situation and this man’s obviously addled mind. Just goes to show you, you don’t have to look crazy to be crazy. But her mirth did not affect him.
“Whoever drinks water from this well will be thirsty again,” he said evenly. “But whoever drinks the water that I shall give him shall never thirst again; but the water that I shall give him will be within him, like a never-ending well of water, springing up into everlasting life.”
Sadie could not restrain herself any longer. She hooted with laughter! What a novel idea – an end to this daily walk of heat and hate – a solution to this problem, at least. “Oh,” she chortled breathlessly. “Oh, sir, give me this water, so I never become thirsty! Nor will I have to come here to draw water,” and she laughed aloud again.
Her laughter had not ruffled him at all. His eyes, his voice, everything about him was calm, stilling Sadie’s foolish giggles. Once again that note of gentle but firm command sounded as he spoke. “Go, call your husband, and come back here.”
The last of Sadie’s laughter died abruptly in her throat, choking her quick retort. “I have no husband.” What did this man know of her life? She was studying him closely now, waiting for his next words.
His head nodded ever so slightly. “You are right to say you have no husband.” The words were not accusing, but only acknowledged the truth. He continued. “For you have had five husbands, and the man you are living with now is not your husband. You spoke truthfully.”
Sadie’s mind raced. Was he commending her? And how did he know… but wait! He had been talking about everlasting life – he must be some kind of prophet, a religious visionary or something. Well… to defend herself, she could turn the tables on him.
“Sir, I see that you are a prophet.” It was no use to deny his statement. Her mind flicked back: Ethan, Nathan, Abishai, Joel, Naosh; each her husbands, each one a little meaner than his predecessor, forcing her out into what seemed at the time, but never were, more understanding arms. And now this Heber, who would not even give her his name. But for the little he earned swilling hogs, which he quickly went through swilling his cheap wine, she would have left him. She forced her mind back to the present. You can always get a religious man into a religious discussion. That much, at least, she had learned from her father.
“Our ancestors have always worshiped in this mountain of Samaria; and you Jews say that the Temple in Jerusalem is where men ought to worship.” She paused, but the question in her voice sufficed to finish her statement.
The look on the stranger’s face was one of great patience and even tenderness as he answered. “Woman, believe me. The time is coming when you will neither in this mountain, nor even at Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship without even knowing what you worship; we Jews know what we worship, because salvation is of the Jews. But the time is coming – it’s here already – when true worshipers of God will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. He is searching for men and women who will worship Him this way.”
Her mind reeled. Worship without religious ceremonies, only from her heart, in simple honesty? This would leave a lot of those priestly charlatans out, for sure; men like her father and others, who stood on the form of God’s Law but who had only coldness in their hearts. And God – the great God, who seemed so well known to this stranger – He was searching for men and women to worship Him truly?
But the stranger had not finished his words to her, and he explained further. “God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him, must worship Him in spirit and in truth.”
How logical and straightforward the words from this stranger’s lips. Distant memories, long forgotten, stirred of her own childhood, learning God’s promises, knowing in her child’s heart that a God who made promises cared about His people, cared about her. What about those promises? Surely the time was nearing when they should be fulfilled?
She looked at him with longing, for this stranger spoke so truly, his words warmed even her hardened heart. Dared she hope that this man’s God was the God who cared about her, cared enough to keep the one great promise she had never forgotten? Forcing words of hope past years of cynicism and bitterness, past walls of defense so carefully erected, she spoke breathlessly, barely more than whispering to him.
“I know that Messiah is coming, the One who is Anointed; when He is present with us, He will tell us the answers to all of our problems and questions…to everything.” The words, once spoken, had released something in Sadie. The tightness that so long had bound her heart was…gone! A strange, wild energy rose in her, flooding out the years of bitterness and anguish, replacing her sorrow and hopelessness. Looking at this Stranger, she knew, even as He spoke the words.
“I that am speaking with you – I AM Messiah.”
Sadie’s tears flowed then, tears of relief and rejoicing. She was forgiven! Sadie stood silently, weeping in praise and adoration. As she gazed into His face, she realized that, indeed, a spring of everlasting life was leaping and bubbling within her. It could not be contained – it was not meant to be contained!
This knowledge and her upsurging well of joy was penetrated by voices, and she suddenly realized that a small crowd of men was standing just a few paces away. They stared at her, sending quizzical glances at the One she now knew was Messiah, while they murmured among themselves.
Sadie looked back at Messiah. He nodded very slightly, seeming to reassure her in what she knew she must do. She stepped away from Him, away from the water pot that had so recently defined her purpose. Water… LIVING WATER… this was what her neighbors needed. That was her purpose. She began to run, around the men at the well and up the dusty street to do what an hour before would have been unthinkable. As she raised her arm to knock on the first door, a smile transformed her face and words of hope and joy leapt to her lips. My life is forever new, she thought, and the door began to open.