In a teaching hospital it is common to see a doctor going about his or her rounds surrounded by a group of medical students. The students watch the doctor, they listen to what the doctor says, what questions are asked and how the doctor interacts with the patient. This is an established part of student’s learning of the medical and healing arts.

There is much to this Sunday’s gospel reading (John 4:5-42) but one component, I believe, is that in the passage we get to watch Jesus the Divine Physician at work. Certainly, this passage is given in order that we might come to know more deeply who Christ is for us but also in order that we, ourselves, might learn how to help bring his love and healing to our world. The passage is truly worthy of reflection for the disciple who wants to help in bringing God’s love to the lives of people.

The first lesson offered in this encounter is an awareness of the basic need for healing. The woman is broken and our Lord sees this. She has had five husbands and the man she now lives with is not her husband. This deep brokenness and pain that this woman carries is demonstrated in the fact that she comes to the well at noon – in the heat of the day – to draw water. The custom of the time was to get the day’s needed water in the morning when it is cool. In the morning was when the people of the town would have come to get water and also to see one another. But, when you are broken, hurt and ashamed you avoid others. The woman comes at noon.

The second lesson is that Jesus the Divine Physician approaches her in the commonality of their shared humanity. Jesus does not view himself as superior nor does he condescend toward her. The gospel very specifically says that Jesus is tired and thirsty and it is in this need that he begins his encounter with her by asking for a drink of water. This seemingly so-simple request speaks to an awareness on Jesus’ part of their common humanity. The simple request for a drink witnesses to the love and respect Jesus holds for this woman and it is a critical key in the opening of the woman’s heart to the possibility of healing and awareness that life, can indeed, be lived differently. The request and what underlies it is so striking that in fact, at first the woman is taken aback, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?”

Then, step by step, Jesus meets the woman where she is at in her questions and he brings her to greater truth and fuller healing. But, it is extremely important to note that in their exchange the giving of truth is never divorced from the greater context of the tender healing of her heart. (This is the skill of a master physician and how so sadly, we disciples can often fall short in this regard.) Truth and healing care must be held together! Truth is given but it is done in the context of an awareness of the truly deep wounds and deep yearning of the woman’s heart. The surgeon must sometimes use the scalpel but always, always, always in the greater context of healing and care.
John specifies that the woman leaves her jar at the well and goes to the town to proclaim Christ. Her true healing has been met; her true thirst has been quenched! Jesus is the Divine Physician. He both meets us at the wells of our own brokenness and, as his disciples, he asks us to watch and learn how to bring his healing love to our world.