Jesus said: “Go, call your husband, and come back.”
What if… what if… the woman at the well had responded: “Sure, ok! I’ll go get my husband, Jesus! I’ll be right back!”
That was the question that came to my mind as I prayed over our gospel passage this weekend. After Jesus enters into this beautiful conversation with the woman at the well — He intrigues her with this promise of ‘living water’ that would become in her (and anyone who would ask him) ‘a spring welling up to eternal life’ — After all of that, the woman turns to the Lord and she says to Him from the bottom of her soul:
“Sir, give me this water.” I want what you are offering. I want this pure, refreshing, satisfying drink, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to this well over and over again!
And that’s when it happens… Jesus then instructs her: “Go, call your husband, and come back.”
It’s as if he’s saying to her: “Alright, so you say that you want this water? You claim that you really want this constant stream of goodness and life? Good! I am more than willing to give that to you. In fact, I thirst for YOU. I thirst for your soul to come and drink from this living water so that YOU can have abundant life.
But first, you gotta be honest with me. You have to come to me on MY terms, not yours — so, go ahead, and call your husband.”
It’s a fascinating test, isn’t it? Because of course, Jesus knows this woman’s story. He created her. He intimately understands everything that she has ever been through. What if she had tried hiding part of her story? Or what if she didn’t see any problem at all with her current state in life, and just responded: “Ok, sure, no problem! I’ll go get my husband! Just wait here — BRB.”
Would Jesus have played along with her version of the truth? Would he have allowed her to go on living that “untruth?” She wasn’t married. That was the objective fact. Would Jesus have pretended otherwise?
Of course not…
Now thankfully, the Samaritan woman was a good and honest soul. And though she certainly had a broken past, and though she had many deep wounds — And despite the fact that she (like us!) was NOT perfect, she felt safe enough with Jesus to speak truth:
“I do not have a husband.” The words are so simple. Without explanation or any kind of justification. It’s just the bare truth.
Where did she find the courage to be so honest?
Perhaps there was something about the way that Christ looked at her? His eyes pierced her soul, encouraging her to let Him in. Perhaps she knew deep down — “Well there’s no use hiding anything from this One. And besides — I don’t want to! Why hide from that look of love?”
Jesus always seems to have that effect, doesn’t he? He elicits Truth. He summons us to be our real selves, to come as we truly are, and we are exposed to Him, and there’s no use hiding anything — because He knows us! He intimately understands us and our struggles. We’re safe with Jesus.
Remember also all those times he performed exorcisms — the devils themselves cried out “You are the Son of God!” Even those hardened liars, the fallen angels, were held captive by him, and they couldn’t help but speak the Truth!
Jesus is Truth. Lies boil away before His Face. They are reduced to ash and dust. Only the Truth can remain before Him — good, bad, or ugly…the whole thing. He came to testify to the Truth, and the Truth shall set you free.
So we return again to the Samaritan woman’s honest answer: “Lord, I don’t have a husband. This is who I am. There’s no use pretending otherwise.”
Jesus’ heart must have leapt at her sincerity. Yes! The Father desires adorers such as this! He wants open, and defenseless, and contrite hearts. But he wants to draw this woman even closer. He wants to attract her to the living waters. He came to help the helpless. He came to die for the ungodly, as St. Paul put it so beautifully in our second reading.
There is no condemnation in His words toward this woman, and yet… he doesn’t mess around, does he? In fact, he is brutally honest back to her:
“You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.”
Look at what Jesus is doing here! With masterful gentleness, he does not shy away from the Truth about this beloved woman. Quite the contrary, he goes even deeper into her darkness. He reveals to her the full extent of her woundedness! He names her whole story!
Why does he do this?
Why doesn’t he just leave this poor lady alone? Isn’t he judging her? Isn;’t he just pointing out her flaws unnecessarily? Bringing up bad memories?
Doesn’t Jesus know that we have to approve and affirm everyone on their own terms? Enthusiastically affirm all their life choices? Go along with their new religious beliefs… or more likely, their new unbelief? Use their pronouns? Agree with their version of reality? Doesn’t the Lord understand that the INDIVIDUAL gets to define what’s real about them? That each of us gets to invent the deepest meaning and ultimate direction for our existence?”
I think we’re really wrong on this front. We’ve wandered away from the Truth! But it’s a lot easier to do that, isn’t it? To play along with the untruth? We much prefer to go along with “unreality” just so we can keep the peace, to be nice, to be kind, to show our friends and family that we love and care about them unconditionally…
But actually, we’re doing just the opposite!
Unconditional love must not be reduced to unconditional affirmation.
But that is where we are at as a society. We’ve unfortunately lost the ability to make the elementary distinction between “judging” someone and recognizing objective truth about actions and decisions.
The word “mercy” is all too often equated with “being ok with sin.” The popular buzzword “accompaniment” translates often enough to “not saying what actually needs to be said.” We have forgotten what leads to real, human flourishing — so we tend to reduce all our ethics to the sad and selfish phrase: “You do you.”
But Jesus desires SO MUCH MORE for us! He wants to give us LIVING WATERS. Why settle for dead, muddy, confusing waters that won’t satisfy, when Jesus, the Way, Truth and Life is offering us something so much better?
What we need now more than ever is to meet Jesus at the well, and allow Him to speak the full Truth over us. He knows who we are better than we do, and He delights in us. He thirsts for our faith. We need Him to re-educate us about who we truly are, what we’ve truly done, and how much God really loves us in spite of everything.
The theologian Luigi Giussani — guess what, he’s Italian! — once said that true education is nothing more than an “introduction to Reality.”
And that’s what Christ was doing with this woman at the well. He was introducing her to the whole reality! The whole truth about herself, about God, about mercy, and about conversion. That’s what He eagerly desires to do in each of our lives as well.
But here, we run into a big problem, don’t we? Because most of the time, we’d rather not face the truth, right? We’d sort of rather invent a truth for ourselves.
We’re a lot like those Israelites who in our first reading today are wandering in the desert after being freed from slavery. And they’re getting impatient. They’re getting bitterly tired. And they’re getting really thirsty. And they started to reinvent their past… they started to believe a lie.
And so they grumbled against Moses: “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt? Was it just to have us die here of thirst with our children and our livestock?”
Let that question sink in: “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt?”
They’re forgetting their past. They’re forgetting their history! Not too distant history, I might add!
They were SLAVES in Egypt. They had no freedom. They were miserable. They’re basically saying to God’s face: “We prefer slavery, God. Send us back to our chains and our toil. We prefer, actually, to live a lie.”
What if God played along with all that nonsense? What if He responded to them: “Oh ok… My mistake! You were happier in Egypt? You were better off in Egypt? You’re probably right… You know best… You do you. Go on back to Egypt!”
Thankfully, the Living God didn’t do that. No, God knows what’s best for us, period. He knows our story. He knows our whole past. He knows what we need most desperately, and what we need — is Him.
So He sends His only Son to come and sit beside the well of our souls — where He offers us the living waters of His Holy Spirit, His grace, His doctrine, and His authoritative teaching revealed through His Church!
He refuses to play along with our untruths, and offers instead to QUENCH our deepest thirst to be known and loved, and to live in the Truth.
So with the Samaritan Woman — that good honest soul — let us say to our Lord with all sincerity of heart: “Sir, give us THAT water always.”
He will not refuse.