We read the biblical passage straight through, without pause, as if the dialogue were a race, without feeling the dynamic between two strangers, a man and a woman, a Jew and a Samaritan, he on the road and she taking care of home responsibilities.
If the Hebrew word “Selah” means “pause,” and if John had the habit of inserting this word of Jewish poetry in a text of prose, I imagine he would have used it in this narrative about Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Especially, right before this phrase of hers.
The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet.
The Lord had just finished describing her dissolute life, with five husbands, and at that moment she was living with a man without being married. Jesus and the woman had never met before. Here was a strange man revealing her whole life.
If she did not stop all movement, if she did not let the water jar fall from her hands, if she did not pause a long minute before responding …
At that moment the water from the well ceased to be important.
When the disciples arrive and the conversation is interrupted, she leaves her jar at the well in order to go speak with the citizens of the city.
Jesus’ revelation makes her world come to a full stop.
No doubt, she pauses to find her voice. Her tone changes.
“Sir, I see that you are a prophet.”
If before she spoke jokingly, with a lightness to her voice, even with surprise at the initiative of this Jew speaking to her, now she no longer speaks this way.
Now, she knows she is in the presence of a man of God, a man who knows, a man who reveals the mind and redemption of Heaven.
The whole conversation changes. Beginning now, her life changes as well.
She looks at him differently.
When Jesus tells us our life and reveals who we are, then comes the pause. Our decision about how to receive his revelation determines the direction of the conversation with Jesus from there on out.
The Samaritan woman knew, deep down, where she stood. And she faced it, taking a long look.
Satan doesn’t want us to make that same pause, allowing the truth to pierce us inside, wanting life to be different, daring a spark of hope become the flame of repentance. The devil wants to keep us in the race of the water jar, in the sweat of mid-day, in the interminable to-do list, so that we won’t think long on Jesus’ pronouncement.
Jesus knows me. He describes to me my disgrace. And he waits for my pause, my recognition of his person, my confession of the mess I’ve made of my life, in order that he may soon reveal himself to be the Messiah who restores me to life and, for me and many others like me, becomes the Savior of the world.