When we write, our words symbolize or point to things. God, however, is so great that not only do His words symbolize, but even things symbolize or point to other things since He is the Lord of history and his Providence directs all.
I wish I could remember which early Church Father said this, because it is a profound explanation of why sacred history recounted in the Bible is more than a historical narrative; it is a meta-story. For this reason, the whole Bible (even the Old Testament) is relevant for us today — not so we know how to invade some future Canaanites, but that we can apply, by analogy, what is written to our own struggle against the world, the flesh, and the devil. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:6, “These things happened as examples for us…”
Jesus is the Lord of history, and nothing in Christ’s ministry happened by chance. Every place and event recorded in the Gospels is rich in meaning. We only have to discover what it is.
Take, for example, Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:4-30). Jesus was heading from Judea to Galilee. Most Jews took a long route around Samaria so as to avoid the Samaritans because Jews and Samaritans weren’t exactly on friendly terms. But Jesus chooses to go through Samaria and meets a woman at a well. For most of us, this seems a bit routine. There’s nothing significant about a man and a woman talking at a well, or is there?
In biblical times, meeting at a well is something akin to going on an online dating service. Well, maybe not as crass or unseemly as that, but it was a place to find a bride. For example, Abraham
placed his head servant under oath to go to his land and find a wife for his son Isaac. The servant went to the land and waited for evening outside the city of Nahor by the watering hole for the women of the city to come out to draw water. The servant prayed, “LORD, God of my master Abraham, let it turn out favorably for me today and thus deal graciously with my master Abraham. While I stand here at the spring and the daughters of the townsmen are coming out to draw water, if I say to a girl, ‘Please lower your jug, that I may drink,’ and she answers, ‘Take a drink, and let me give water to your camels, too,’ let her be the one whom you have decided upon for your servant Isaac. In this way I shall know that you have dealt graciously with my master” (Genesis 24:12-14). Immediately after he made this prayer, Rebecca came out.
The narrative continues, “…the servant ran toward her and said, ‘Please give me a sip of water from your jug.’ ‘Take a drink, sir,’ she replied, and quickly lowering the jug onto her hand, she gave him a drink. When she had let him drink his fill, she said, ‘I will draw water for your camels, too, until they have drunk their fill.’” (Genesis 24:17-19). After she finished giving water, the servant knew Rebecca was the bride for Isaac. Likewise, Isaac’s son Jacob also met his future wife Rachael at a well (Genesis 29:1-30). The same is true with Moses finding his wife Zipporah after visiting a well (Exodus 2:15-21). Wells are where women are called to be brides.
With this in mind, let’s look at Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus says to her essentially the same thing Abraham’s servant said to Rebecca, “Give me a drink” (John 4:7). As we will see in a future article, the dialogue between Jesus and the woman is more than a chat over a cool drink on a hot day; it’s a dialogue between God (the Bridegroom) and Samaria (who has left her husband).
The significance of this conversion can be overlooked if you miss the biblical connection between wells and watering holes, brides and bridegrooms.
Gary Michuta is an apologist, author and speaker and a member of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Livonia. Visit his website at www.handsonapologetics.com.