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A STRANGER COMES TO TOWN
February 24, 2008
 
A Stranger Comes to Town


Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman's testimony, "He told me everything I have ever done.
John 4:39


This middle of the day wasn't the best time to go and draw water -- most of the women in town went early, while it was still cool. She'd hear them setting out for the well every morning, laughing and calling out to one another, fussing at their toddlers as they walked along the narrow street. It reminded her of when she was a girl herself, she and her sisters, how they'd go out early, quiet and still full of sleep. They'd wake up as they walked along, though, and then they'd giggle their way back home with their full water jars, so that their mother would scold them for being silly loud girls no man would ever want to marry.

Now that was a long time ago.

These days, she went at noon, when she could be pretty sure none of the other women would be at the well. They didn't talk to her, didn't draw water with her. They'd exchange significant looks with each other when she came near, and she just couldn't bear it.

Not that she expected anything else. Everyone knew who and what she was. They knew she wasn't married to the man she lived with. She had been married once, so briefly -- he had caught the fever and died before a year was out, leaving her alone. No husband, no baby. And then his older brother had taken her in, a man so different from him, so surly and so mean. She'd been scarcely more than a pack horse in his house. A cruel man -- he had shoved her down the stairs when she was five months pregnant and she had lost the baby right there on the stone floor. A year or so after that, she'd had enough. So she left.

That might have been a mistake and it might not have, she was never sure. There had been two other men along the way -- a Roman soldier, who had beaten her up worse than the brother had, and a younger man who abandoned her when his family set him up with a good marriage. And now there was this man. He was a decent man. He liked her cooking and he liked the way she kept the house and he didn't hit her. So that was a lot better.

But he was a man of few words. And his family didn't invite her to visit, nor did they visit them. And when there was a wedding in town, she was never invited. Because where would she sit? With the married women? Impossible. With the men? So he would go and she stayed home. The sounds of the party would come through her open window, the laughing and the singing, the flute players and the drums. She would lie in bed and listen in the dark. But she hadn't been to a wedding since her own, all those years ago.

There was a stranger at the well today. He spoke to her and asked her for a drink. She could tell by his dress that he was a Jew, but nobody of her own people ever talked to her, so why not answer? Underneath their clothes, men were all alike anyway, Samaritan or Jew or Roman or whatever. Sure enough, he asked about her marital status, in a roundabout way, and she answered flirtatiously -- sort of -- because you just never know. I have no husband, she said. And you don't know the half of it, mister, she said to herself as soon as she had told him that.

And that was when the conversation took a turn. Who on earth was this? Not just talking to her, but talking to her about the very things nobody would ever talk to her about. Nobody ever talked to her about anything. She hardly ever spoke herself -- sometimes, when she did say something, her own voice sounded strange to her, rusty with disuse. It did now, too: she had croaked out that half-truth about having no husband. But now her voice returned, sounded more like her, a voice she hadn't heard in years. Now there were ideas about God to talk about, of all things -- nobody had ever cared what she thought about God before.

When he got up to move on, she just left her water jar right there at the well and ran home. She burst into the house, and of course her man wasn't home -- it was the middle of the day. So then she ran to his shop and interrupted him and a customer and another man and told them that she had met a man at the well who was a prophet or something, maybe the messiah himself, she wasn't sure, and who could read peoples' minds and hearts and that he had read her heart, and they were so surprised to hear this silent women saying anything at all that they listened to her.

And sure enough, who comes into town later that day but the man from the well. Greets her by name. Right there in front of everyone.

She will invite him for dinner. He will accept with pleasure. Her husband will be dumfounded, but she will make that eggplant dish he likes, so it will be okay. Maybe she'll invite his sisters and their husbands, too, because why not?
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Lent III, Year A
Exodus 17:1-7
Romans 5:1-11
John 4:5-42
Psalm 95
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