I cannot get past the thought that there is something of deep significance to this verse in the story of the Samaritan woman's noontime encounter with Jesus at the well. Many scholars and preachers whom I have read in preparation for Sunday’s preaching seem to agree that there is certainly something curious about this small detail but no one is sure enough about it to run with it. Nevertheless the image of this empty jar sitting alone on the well’s ledge has not left my thoughts all week long. Jesus promised the woman that he was a source of water that would never leave her thirsty and so she left proclaiming that he, the one whom she just encountered might just be the Messiah. This is a consistent theme of John’s gospel that discipleship with Jesus Christ requires an immediate evangelistic effort to invite others to “come and see.” That is precisely what the woman at the well did. She left her empty jar and went to tell.
“Come and see the man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah can he?” There are some things deeply admirable about this woman’s evangelism; the first being her excitement and readiness to tell others about this one who has moved her so deeply. Her community was so inspired by this woman’s witness that they invited Jesus to come and minister to the them for two full days. Secondly I am encouraged by the fragility of her faith and testimony as it carries with it a smidgen of doubt and uncertainty. “He cannot be the Messiah can he?” There seems to be within Christianity these days a need for certainty along with binary formulaic answers to life’s most pressing spiritual issues. It is either this or that but no grey in between is allowed. When I look at the landscape of Christianity I see large churches skilled at providing parishioners with easy one-liners that serve to justify or hammer in key points of doctrine and I see parishioners who understandably find great comfort in these rote answers. And what happens then when the one-liner cannot make sense of real life?
I am exhausted could the children just be quiet for a moment?
This pile will never be complete...
How will I pay these bills?
My marriage is struggling...
I am not accepted for my sexuality...
Why is there such injustice?
More than one person has stood in the pulpit during worship in our congregation and given a testimony similar to the Samaritan woman’s. “I don’t have the answers. I am not sure about some things. I struggle with this. But Jesus Christ loves me and I never saw that coming. Come and see...” Every time that happens I look around and I see tears and nods of understanding and hear shouts of “amen.” There is some raw and attractive honesty about a faith that does not completely understand what it is about and yet is curious enough to be pursued. It is as if to say, “I am not yet full. My story is not finished. But I invite you into it.”
This might be the subtle of message of that empty jar on the well’s ledge. The Samaritan woman went to invite others to come and see this Jesus who knew everything about her life because “I don’t know for sure but he could be the Messiah. You think?” Maybe the empty jar speaks to a faith that while nourished by the living water of Jesus Christ is never completely filled, never has all the answers, is always fragile, and lacks certainty. It is teetering on the ledge and yet the mere fragility of the whole thing is how it was meant to be all along.
What do you think? Come and see. Could be the Messiah.