Everyday events can be extraordinary

Published: August 17, 2013

This is the 11th column in a 14-part series

By Cackie Upchurch
Director of Little Rock Scripture Study

Those who have been reading the Bible for a while, or who are simply paying attention as the Scriptures are proclaimed in liturgy, may have noticed that often there are patterns that emerge in the way certain stories are told. For example, in most biblical stories of being called by God, there is a deliberate series of events — the divine encounter, God's self-identification, a divine commission, an objection or objections from the person called, a reassurance and a sign of God's continuing presence. This pattern can be found in the calls of Moses (Exodus 3), Gideon (Judges 6) and several of the prophets (Isaiah 6, Jeremiah 1, Ezekiel 1-3).

The use of a pattern alerts the ancient listener and the modern reader that something special has occurred. Recognizing such patterns in biblical story-telling might also be instructive in modern times as we look for the evidence of God in our lives. Another pattern can be found in the meeting of men and maidens near wells. Isaac and his future wife Rebekah met at a well (Genesis 24:1-67), as did Jacob and Rachel (Genesis 29:1-30) and Moses and Zipporah (Exodus 2:15-22).

In each case the man has left home and finds himself in a foreign land where he meets a woman at a well. One of them usually draws water and they speak, if only briefly, after which the young woman returns home with news of a stranger in the area, followed by a betrothal and sometimes a meal.

Several scholars have noticed that while the pattern of meeting at a well cannot be applied strictly, it is nonetheless a meaningful way to explore the story of Jesus and the woman at the well (John 4:4-41). In this case, the foreigner is Jesus. This is Samaritan territory and the well of Jacob is a place of reverence for the Samaritans. As a faithful Jew, Jesus would have been aware that he was perceived as a foreigner.

While the woman that Jesus encounters at the well is hardly a young maiden (she has had five husbands and is currently living with a man), she is quite open to the moment of encounter. She will eventually tell not just her family but all she meets about this stranger who told her everything she had done.

The story does not tell us that the woman or Jesus drew water at the well as in the earlier well stories; however, their entire conversation is initiated with Jesus' offer of living water. There is no shared meal but there is the concern from his disciples that Jesus eat something (perhaps they want to move on from this foreign territory). There is no betrothal but there is no question that the woman at the well enters into a committed faith relationship, a type of betrothal to the Lord who offers living water (verses 10-15) and the food of obedience to God's will (verse 34).

There is little wonder why the Church chooses to proclaim this Gospel passage each year for the first scrutiny prior to the baptisms of the Easter celebration. Living water, obedience to God's will and the opportunity to begin a new way of living are all themes that speak to those who are entering the Church in the Easter season. Helping people to identify their thirsts is part of the task of the initiation process in our parishes, as is giving people a message about themselves and God that they want to share with others.

This Gospel, though, also speaks to those who have enjoyed a long commitment to Christ. When we are weary from walking the path of discipleship or rusty from having neglected our commitments or forgotten our Christ-centered identity, we need someone who will take the time to speak truth to us and will help us recognize our deeper hungers and thirsts.

The woman whom Jesus encountered at the well in a Samaritan village became a witness to his identity (John 4:39-41), made all the more credible because of her own honesty and the implied change of life. Many believed at first because of her word and eventually because of their own experience. In this Year of Faith we are reminded that Christ shows up in even the most mundane of places, offers us the truth about ourselves and our God and invites us to bear witness.

Study Questions
  • How can it be helpful to recognize patterns that emerge in the way that stories are told in the Bible? For example, do such patterns help you understand the purpose of some of these stories?
  • Several biblical couples met for the first time at wells. What aspects of these stories help you to appreciate the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman (John 4:4-41)?
  • When has a seemingly routine chore been the occasion of encountering Christ in your life? How has that kind of experience heightened your desire to cultivate a deeper sense of mindfulness and awareness?
  • When has another person's testimony about God's action in their lives been an avenue of deepening your own belief and trust in God?


This article was originally published in Arkansas Catholic Aug. 17, 2013. Copyright Diocese of Little Rock. All rights reserved. This article may be copied or redistributed with acknowledgement and permission of the publisher.