In arid climates, a watering hole is a place of gathering for many species of animals. Water is needed to sustain life and the predators in these parts know it. For example, on the African prairie, they will hide near the watering hole, lying in wait, for an unsuspecting animal to pass by.
In today’s devotional, a woman approaches the watering hole alone. (John 4) In the first century, drawing water from the well was a communal endeavor. Often, the woman of that day would gather at the town well at a specific time in the morning. They would fill their water jugs for the day, but they would also chat. Maybe Miriam would ask Martha about a relationship or tell a funny story that happened earlier in the day. It was a social gathering. By visiting with others, they were able to bring some pleasure to a mundane task.
That is why this story is odd in some ways. The woman in this story came to the watering hole alone. She came in the middle of the day— at a time when she was sure that no one would be there. Why? Scholars surmise that she had been ostracized in some way by the rest of the group. We know from Jesus’ conversation with her, that she had difficulty sustaining relationships. She didn’t fit the picture of what was expected of her or the cultural norms of her time. She had been married 5x and had probably given up on the idea of love and acceptance. In her culture, she was clearly on the outside looking in. So, the woman approached the well as she always did, but something was different this time, waiting at the well was a Jewish rabbi named Jesus. He astounded her because he spoke to her with dignity and value. Jesus saw her. Not just her mistakes, but beyond her mistakes. He saw her childhood, the way she was raised, how she was spoken to, her addictions, her tendencies, the good and bad and he accepted her unconditionally.
In some ways, I suspect this type of love is rare. Most of us experience love on a conditional basis. If we do the right things or behave the right way. I heard a talk this week from Rebekah Lyons whose firstborn son was born with Down’s Syndrome. She spoke about the moment he was born and looked into his eyes and almost sensing him asking this question: “Will you love me for me?” She knew that many of the ways we judge ourselves as parents: having children that are academically gifted, athletic, or who pass every milestone was not going to be her journey. She had to love her son for who he was, not what he could do for her, or how he could make her feel about her parenting skills. Yet, she learned something in the process. As she loved her son unconditionally, with no strings attached, she better understood God’s love for her. It was not based on what she did, or how much she earned. She was enough.
As the woman left the well that day she was filled with that sense of unconditional acceptance. She left with a “watered soul.” A deep, sense of belonging and acceptance. And so, it is all for all of us. God will meet us in the watering holes and satisfy those deep places of our life.