“Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun”

There is a song written by Noel Coward and first performed in The Third Little Show in New York in June 1931 by Beatrice Lillie.  The song is especially known for the line, “Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun”, with which most verses begin and end.  Well, as it happens, not only mad dogs and Englishmen!  There was a woman long ago who went out in the midday sun and her story is told in John’s Gospel (John 4: 1-30).  In the relentless heat of the Middle Eastern midday sun! That was indeed crazy!  Why did she do that?

This woman, whose name we do not know, used to go out in the middle of the day to fetch water from a well just outside the city.  The well was known as Jacob’s Well which at that time   was near the city of Sychar in Samaria. Today it lies within the West Bank.  In those days it was a woman’s job to fetch water for her family each day.  The women used to go out early in the morning while it was still cool.  No one went out at midday, it was far too hot.  The women used to make a social occasion of this daily chore.  They would catch up and talk at the well and we can imagine them chatting about the everyday things that formed part of their lives, sharing their frustrations, complaints, perhaps passing on the latest gossip, reminiscing, dreaming and   laughing together.  But the woman in our story used to go at midday because she knew that none of the other women would be at the well then.  She went then so that she wouldn’t be seen.  What drove her to this?  Why this desire to avoid the others?  Well, she was divorced and had had five husbands.  Because of this she was a social outcast and was looked down upon.  She was a sinner and her sin was known to everyone.  She would be humiliated and uncomfortable as the other women would surely fall silent at her approach.  It was a lonely life.  A life of shame.

But one day she had an experience, an encounter at the well when she went out alone to fetch her water, and that encounter changed her life.  It was a most unlikely thing to happen because firstly, it was a man who spoke to her.  Remember we’re talking about first century Palestine and she was a woman in a society that really didn’t consider that women were of great value and certainly enforced strict rules of gender communication.  Secondly, she was from Samaria, a Samaritan woman, and the man who spoke to her was a Jew.  At that time the Jews looked down on the Samaritans. They considered them inferior and there was certainly no love lost between the two groups.  This woman was despised in many ways.

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Ms Kerry McCullough

Spirituality and Liturgy Coordinator