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Weighing our beliefs well

Old well

Throughout Lent, campus ministry leaders will provide devotions based on the Gospel lectionary scriptures. Erica Thomas from NMU invites us to admire the woman at the well, who was set free from old ways of knowing to claim new ways of understanding.

Director, Northern Michigan University Wesley Campus Ministry

“The woman said to [Jesus], ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?’” (John 4:11, NRSVUE).

The story about the woman at the well is a familiar one to us. We have heard it many times. We have examined it in many ways. Yet, have you ever considered the story from the woman’s perspective? The header for John 4 would read: “Man without a Bucket.”

Here’s a taste: At midday, a Samaritan woman goes to the well to gather water when she notices a man resting in the shade nearby. This man asks her for a drink. She looks him over and can tell he is a Jew, which makes his request odd. A Jewish person does not fraternize with a Samaritan, and a Jewish man certainly does not socialize with a Samaritan woman. And yet, he asked. She is caught off guard and asks why he asked her for a drink. He gives a response that provides less clarity than before. He says if only she knew who he was, she would be asking him to give her living water. And so now she states the obvious: “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?”

The woman is only following what has been embedded in her life, what makes sense, and what society has taught her. Samaritans and Jews do not mix. To get water from a well, a bucket is necessary. In John’s gospel, there is a pattern of misunderstanding followed by great spiritual insight. This is where she takes her misunderstanding and asks, “Where do you get that living water?” She is seeking to understand. Have you ever found yourself stating what seems obvious yet knowing you are missing something?

I have, and the students who are part of the Northern Michigan University Wesley Campus Ministry have too. And like the woman, despite being befuddled, we are questioning our embedded beliefs and theology and seeking better and greater understanding. Why do we believe this is true? What is the origin of this belief or tradition? Does it have standing, or does it fall flat when examined? This engagement is not about undermining our faith or destroying our beliefs. Instead, it is about deliberating them. And we do this together, in community. We call this time Theology on Tap. Theology on Tap gives us the permission and space to open up our faith and examine our theological roots.

The woman at the well is to be admired. As biblical scholar Gail R. O’Day says, “At the beginning of the conversation, Jesus’ words about living water seemed preposterous to her, empty boasts by a man without a bucket, but in v. 15, she believes that Jesus can give water that will assuage her thirst. The woman’s openness to Jesus and her willingness to engage him in conversation stand in marked contrast to Nicodemus, who only greeted Jesus with amazement and resistance.”

When we pause long enough to consider where our theology stems from, we often find room for reflection. When we question our doctrine or beliefs seeking better or deeper understanding, we move from embedded to deliberative theology. In this shift, we are liberating our faith to grow, expand, and engage in ways it was restricted before we questioned. The etymology of the word “deliberate” means to literally “weigh well” (etymoline.com). So it seems fitting that the woman is weighing well by a well.

Take some time this week to be inquisitive about your faith, to weigh it well. If there’s an expression of faith you use often, find out where it comes from. You may find out that you actually do not know where it comes from, and that is where the journey to freedom begins! Just as the woman at the well was freed by her openness to releasing her embedded knowledge with deliberative knowledge through her conversation with Jesus, we can be set free from our old ways of knowing to claim new ways of understanding.

Will you pray with me? Hey God, thanks for showing up as a man without a bucket at a well asking for water. Thanks for showing us that we can question and weigh our thoughts and beliefs well. We are forever in awe of how you show up and the lessons you teach us when you do. Amen.

Last Updated on March 8, 2023

The Michigan Conference