The Samaritan woman at the well is probably for many of us a well-known character in the gospel narrative. I wonder what you think when you hear her mentioned. Do you see a much maligned and ostracised woman whom society had rejected? Do you see a terrible sinner who lured men into her bed and then cast them off? Perhaps you see a bold woman who is prepared to set aside the conventions of society and dare to debate on religious matters with a Jewish rabbi.
What we actually know about this woman is not very much. She was drawing water at noon, which is unusual. The evening would have been more likely, when the heat of the sun had gone, or early morning to get fresh supplies for a new day. At noon most people would be keeping in the shade if possible. It could just be that on this occasion the woman went at noon for an extra visit for some reason or it could be that she wanted to avoid the other women of the city. The reason for avoidance could have been that the man she was living with was not her husband in a legal sense. She’d had five husbands but this seemed to be what we might call a common-law husband. Even without the complication of this sixth man, perhaps the woman felt shame due to the ending of her previous marriages (Jews considered that no woman should have more than three husbands) and so avoided the other women. Of course, in those days when life was more precarious than now, all five husbands might have died but I suppose even that might have made tongues wag. Continue reading