jesus, the flirt

He plopped down on the wall of the well, sweat dripping under the oppressive Palestinian sun. He was parched and exhausted to the point of fainting.

But Jesus was not too tired to flirt.

This was Jacob’s Well, after all. Hundreds of years ago, Jacob watched Rachel saunter up to the well. Maybe it was the water, maybe it was her walk, but Jacob became enchanted with her, so much so that he worked 14 years before he ever got as close to her as he did that glorious day amid the stench of grunting animals.

Maybe it was the sexual, overtly feminine image of a well. Maybe it gave the woman, at least for a moment, a change at holding power over a man by playfully refusing him a drink when he first asked. Maybe it was just a place far away from prying relatives. Whatever the reason, wells were the locale of choice for men in search of a young woman of marrying age. Whatever the case, the mothers and fathers of ancient Judaism frequently found one another around wells.

So with all this historical and cultural expectation swirling around the well, Jesus and a Samaritan woman find themselves alone at Jacob’s Well. It was noon, and typically, no one comes to the well to lug water back to the village at this time of day. Usually, the women visited the well in cooler parts of the day, together, turning work into a social occasion. And that is probably why this Samaritan woman is here.

For whatever reason, she is avoiding this communal time of gathering water. Now, perhaps there’s a bit of unfortunate gossip surrounding her many marriages like there is today. Perhaps she has been abused and would rather the other women not see the bruises her partner has left on her. Perhaps the other women simply don’t like her. There’s no way to know why she’s come at this uncommon hour without the company of others, but it’s likely her circumstances aren’t ideal.

And to Jews of the time, she would have been considered of lesser race, lesser gender and lesser reputation.

And this odd rabbi flirts.

He asks for a drink of water. She remarks in genuine surprise at how this Jewish teacher can speak with a Samaritan such as herself.

Jesus responds with what the woman must have considered the worst pick-up line she had ever heard. Jesus starts blabbering to her about how he has this “special” water that’s so totally awesome that if she drinks it she’ll never get thirsty again. Surely, this Samaritan woman must have rolled her eyes. She had had five husbands and no doubt each did his fair share of talking about himself, puffing up himself like a rooster. All too likely, she had also been divorced or thrown out by each of them — forced destitution — and now was living with a relative. So, I don’t doubt, she’d thought she had heard it all. But here she is with a rabbi, sitting at Jacob’s Well with its legendary marital history, while he offers her his very, special eternal water that never runs out, this notion that one cool taste of him and there’d be no going back.

Here she is with a Jewish rabbi who flirts with a Samaritan. And I imagine her responding to Jesus with a sarcastic groan. Or, at the least, I couldn’t blame her if she did.

“Oh, sir, please, give me some of this water,” she says. “Then, I’ll never have to return to the well again.”

Jesus responds, “So, where’s your husband? You married?”

“I have no husband,” she responds. Or, at least, no one she thinks of as her husband.

Jesus’ voice softens with compassion. “How true. You have had five husbands, none of which you have had a choice in. You’ve been passed around like property between men. The man you have now isn’t your husband either. Just someone who feeds you.”

Jesus has seen through her, and perhaps, for the first time, sees something more than just Jesus’ flirting. She responds by calling him a prophet. She asks him about the separation between Samaritans and Jews, a bitter ethnic divide, returning to a more formal version of her first question about why a Jew (now a Jewish prophet!) would be speaking with a Samaritan woman.

Jesus then drops the bombshell. “I am the Messiah,” he tells her. “And God doesn’t care if you are a Samaritan or a Jew.”

Eventually, she leaves to tell the village about Jesus. She returns to the well, but this time, she is not alone. With her, come the village leaders, former friends, children, everyone. They invite Jesus to stay for a few days. He does.

What started as a playful flirt ended in the woman’s redemption — redemption not from sin but from ostracization. Once seen as the tragic woman of many husbands and few, if any, friends, the woman who fetched her water alone at the worst part of the day, now she is viewed as an apostle of sorts, a bringer of the good news to the town. Jesus doesn’t offer her forgiveness. He offers her new social power. Jesus doesn’t berate her for an unfortunate life enacted upon her by men. Rather, he empowers her to be the teacher of the town, the light-bearer for the town, the woman who bridged the divide between Jews and Samaritans, who brought the Christ to their small town.

The following day, she will probably make a point to fetch the water with the other women rather than by herself.  They might even ask with envy what it was like to speak to the Messiah alone.

And she’ll respond with the scandal of God.

“He was flirty,” she will reply.

This post originally appeared at Unorthodoxology in 2008 and has been updated and edited. It also works pretty well starting conversations in youth groups.

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