when reading the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman, this is what comes to mind:
in all societies there are places, and times where people from different cultures meet and have to share the space and time. such places and times can become a point of departure for many things.
two systems meet at that well – the ‘proper’ god worship of the exiles (the jews) and the ‘corrupt’ practises of the enslaved locals (the samaritans). both systems consider the other one a disgrace; for there is pride in poverty just like there is pride in affluence.
the words of the woman – “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?” are the system speaking. the centuries of offences, arrogance and ‘i am definitely better than thou’, the stereotypes cannot disappear in a blink.
the reply by Jesus – “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.” is not from this system. Jesus points at something else, at a relationship, and experiencing God, his gifts; Jesus points at himself as the solution for the conflict of systems.
from there, the conversation turns to relationships – personal and painful. this happens when people meet Jesus – they are seen as they are, with their joy, pain, accomplishments and imperfections – yet without judgement (unless they have judged others, that is).
the meeting takes place by a very deep well. it is deep and ancient, it is one of the wells made by Jacob, the ancestor of both jews and samaritans. and guess what? Jesus says he is a well. a well more ancient, deep, refreshing that that of the ancestors. Jesus is the eternal well, the source of life in any desert.
there are two kinds of people who see Jesus talk with the woman. first – his disciples. they want to protect him, but dare not interfere in his work. his reply to their care is – i am sustained by building the kingdom of god. wherever Jesus enters a relationship with just one more soul, the kingdom grows. and if you are among the disciples, do notice that Jesus speaks to whom he will speak, regardless of what the current ‘system’ rules are. and that the best strategy in those cases is to shut up and listen, and not to interfere with his work.
the other kind are the city people. those who have accepted the jewish monopoly to the correct worship, and do not care any more. yet one of them, the one so marginalised that she could not get to the well in normal time for the fear of humiliation, has met one who calls himself the king, the one who sets free. and she is free – from fear – and she speaks – and her call is heard by those who have lost all hope to be ever recognised as ‘right’.
Jesus does not destroy the systems of faith and religion. what he does is much more powerful: he makes people leave their walled righteousnesses, their fortified stereotypes, and come out, into the sun by that well that is himself.
meeting Jesus personally, drinking from him deeply, changes the soul. having become a source of the living water, the soul can return to the system and repair the damage, and feed others, and show them life, and hope, and love.
so.. maybe it is worth the pain to go out in those places where many systems meet, in the times when outcasts lurk in shadows – because it is the marginalised, the not-quite-our-kind, the slightly off people that Jesus talks to and through. maybe it is worth the pain to talk of Jesus and not of systems, when we meet others who are from outside our system? because the truth is not in the rituals and teachings. the truth is in a life with Jesus, in listening to him, walking with him, praying with him, doing all those small things that make us us with and in him. and then systems change from prisons into shelters.