The ‘meet cute’
John 4: 5-19 (NRSVA)
5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’ 11 The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’ 13 Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ 15 The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’
16 Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come back.’ 17 The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!’ 19 The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet.
Scriptwriters of romantic comedies have a term they use for the first encounter between the two main characters: ‘the meet cute’. The meet cute is the crucial moment where the viewers first get to see the dynamic between the leads. Typically there is an element of confusion, misunderstanding or crossed purposes. The scene presents a problem to be solved, a riddle to be completed, and questions to be answered: do these two end up together? And if so, how? Often the fun is being in on the secret; we the viewers know that they are likely to get together but the characters themselves don’t know that; they may have fantastic chemistry but are blinded by some conflict of interest or a difference in status or some other awkward social dynamic.
The meet cute has been crystallised into an often heavily formulaic moment in ironic movies today with audiences complicit in the joke. When two snazzy people bump into each other (often literally) and seem at odds while still exchanging synchronised quips — we are wise to what is going on. The more sophisticated meet cutes will muddy the waters a bit and introduce more moving parts/competing suitors to keep the will-they/won’t-they tension going a bit longer. But seeing the twist coming can be part of the enjoyment, wondering not ‘if’ but ‘how’.
The meet cute is older than the irony laden films that we stream today, the 80s/90s romcom boom, the screwball comedies of the mid twentieth century, older than film itself — found in Dickens and Austen and Shakespeare and further still to the boy-meets girl stories told around the first campfires…
In today’s reading we have a fascinating meet cute with many of the hallmarks of a classic movie moment. There may not be romance, but there is the charged electricity of a life changing moment. As well as the suspense there is the difference in status, a sense of confusion, an apparently chance encounter in a mundane setting, plot twists, and witty retorts back and forth.
Screenwriter above all screenwriters,
we trust ourselves to your pen,
write the story of discovery
undermine our preconceptions
give us plot twists
and a resolution
and another puzzle after that.
Keep us guessing
keep us wondering
The Transforming Drink: Make time every day this week to thank God for a drink, whether a blessed cuppa, a cool water or a glass or two in celebration. Think about how Jesus lived a human life and regularly had to drink just like us. Give thanks for the drinks you have.