Following the woman at the well

You do not have to look far to see people living in isolation in our society.

During the current coronavirus pandemic, millions are living in self-imposed or mandated isolation, to stem the spread of the virus. This has fundamentally changed the way our society lives, works and worships. 

But, you don’t need a pandemic to see isolation in our society — if you have eyes to see the isolated.

Walk into any nursing home in America, and you will see the isolated. The forgotten. The discarded. The lonely and despondent.

Walk the streets of most any city in our wealthy society, and you will see children, women and men living on the streets, or waiting in soup lines.

Many more are just as isolated, but much harder to see. They may be isolated behind prison walls. Or within their addiction. Or within chronic pain or mental health issues. They may be isolated by hateful or restrictive social views that draw lines by race, creed, gender or gender identity and sexual orientation.

Many more live in spiritual self-isolation — including many who’ve been hurt by the church — cutting themselves off from God.

The Israelites traveling in the desert with Moses suffered this kind of isolation — both physical and spiritual. They were cut off physically from the world they’d known in Egypt, and from the basic necessities of physical life. And that physical isolation led to spiritual isolation — allowing themselves to feel cut off from God.

They cry out, with the pain we all feel at times: “Is the Lord among us or not?”

When we feel this terrible, gnawing emptiness within ourselves, we’re reassured God is with us. God became flesh in Jesus to join us in our isolation, to walk in and fully embrace our pain — to walk with us in any pain we feel.

We see Jesus coming to the isolated in the Gospel account of the Samaritan woman at the well. 

John is deliberate in pointing out the woman is at the well at noon, in the heat of the day. This tells us something about this woman.

We know as a Samaritan she’s outside the inner circle of Jewish society. She tells us this herself: “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”

But, it’s not just about gender. The wells and communal ovens of the day were the social gathering places. And in the early morning — in the coolest part of the day — the wells would be crowded with women gathering water for the day.

But, she’s there in the heat of the day — literally and figuratively outside the social circle.

She also is isolated because of her past. She’s had five husbands, and now is with a man who is not her husband. And society judged her for it, and pushed her to the margins.

But Jesus does not come to the woman in judgment. He comes to her there at the well, in her isolation, and asks her for a drink of water. “Share with me,” he says to her, and to us. 

Rather than lock her deeper into isolation with judgment and shame, Jesus offers her the living water of the Holy Spirit.

The result? This isolated, marginalized woman goes and shares the Good News of Christ, and “many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.”

Simply by loving her, Jesus has lifted her out of her isolation, and empowered her to be not only a child of God, but an empowered ambassador of God’s Kingdom.

She goes from being marginalized and isolated, to going out into the world to find those who are marginalized and isolated, and to share with them the promise of eternal life. And we are called to do the same. We’re called to find and love the isolated. We’re called to accept that love, and share Christ’s Good News. But, we don’t have to do it alone.

Whatever isolation we are suffering, whatever fear is gripping us, no matter how we may be pushed aside, left behind or forgotten — no matter how much we find ourselves alone at the well, like the Samaritan woman — Jesus is there with us. He is there to offer us the Living Water of the Holy Spirit, to love us, to comfort us and empower us, like the Samaritan woman, to spread his word, and more importantly, his love, into a dark and fearful world.

Let us pray: Heavenly Father, be with us in our times of spiritual isolation. Show us the strength of your presence, that made all and rules all. Lord Christ, be with us at the earthly well of our loneliness and isolation. Replace the dark waters of this world with your Living Water — the flowing waters of your grace and love. Oh Holy Spirit, flow through us. Empower us. Guide us. Grant us the courage and wisdom in these times to never lack courage when we should press forward, and the prudence to never push forward out of recklessness or pride. We pray all this in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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