The “meet cute” is a narrative device used primarily in movies that places two characters who are destined to fall in love in the same place for the first time. It is the moment when the love interests meet, usually in some charming, unexpected, or “cute” way. Here is the meet cute as described by a fictional film writer in the movie The Holiday: “Say a man and a woman both need something to sleep in, and they both go to the same men’s pajama department. And the man says to the salesman, ‘I just need bottoms.’ The woman says, ‘I just need a top.’ They look at each other, and that’s the meet cute.” That particular example is taken from the real 1938 film Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife, but there are plenty of other meet cutes to choose from. There is the moment in Singin’ in the Rain when Gene Kelly jumps in Debbie Reynolds’ open-topped car, or when Katharine Hepburn lines up on Cary Grant’s golf ball in Bringing up Baby. It’s when Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes first lock eyes through the fish tank in Romeo + Juliet, when Hugh Grant spills orange juice all over Julia Roberts in Notting Hill, when Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan first shake hands in the moment When Harry Met Sally. The meet cute is when the star you’ve been following in the story finally meets the star you’ve been waiting to see, and the sparks, as they say, start flying.
It’s kind of like when a man, exhausted after a long journey in the hot sun, spots a well sitting quiet at the edge of town. He turns casually to his friends, or his followers, and suggests that they start off into the city to buy some food, while he heads heavily over to the well to sit for a moment and massage his dusty feet. He’s alone, waiting at the watering hole, when along comes a woman, also alone. She is prepared to go about her business as she would on any other day, but we can see that she is walking into a conversation that will change the rest of her days forever.
Their conversation, as all of these conversations do, starts simply enough: I’d like to buy those pajama bottoms, Isn’t that my golf ball, Give me a drink. But quickly, like all of these conversations do, the talk turns to matters more personal. She asks why he’s talking to her, he tells her that if she knew the answer to that question, she wouldn’t waste time asking it. He tells her he has water to give her that will change her life, and she tells him that she wants some. He tells her he knows of her past husbands and her present situation. She asks him to tell her who he is, and just as they get to this crucial moment – I am he – they are interrupted, as happens in all of these conversations. His disciples come, with eyes wide and mouths agape, letting their shocked faces do the talking while the woman backs out of the scene. She walks away, as in all of these meet cutes, with a quizzical smile on her face. And when she meets others along the way, all she can do is talk about him. I met a man, and such a man!
Now before you start thinking that I’ve become irrevocably irreverent, let me assure you that I’m not adding anything to the story that wasn’t already there in the writing. The well was a loaded setting for those who recorded this story in John’s Gospel. Walking up to a woman at a well was about as close to walking up to a woman at a bar as you can get. The well was where men of the scriptures went to get hitched to find a woman, to land a wife. It was at a well that Moses first saw Zipporah, that Abraham’s servant first found Rebecca for Isaac, where Jacob first spotted Rachel. Wells are hot spots for couples in the Bible, so when Jesus is sitting alone at Jacob’s well, and a lone woman walks up, well, then, you’re firmly within your rights to wonder if this encounter might be a meet cute.
But if this scene is supposed to recall the meet cutes of Bible days gone by, the casting is decidedly suspect. I mean, who is this woman? She’s a nobody – she’s worse than a nobody, she’s a Samaritan, part of that rebel tribe that lives on the wrong side of the tracks and worships on the wrong mountain. And she’s definitely not a star. Imagine a scene in a movie where Tom Hiddleston is sitting alone at a bar, pensively staring into his Scotch, and instead of Charlize Theron walking in, it’s say, oh, I don’t know, me. If you saw that scene in a movie, you would surely think to yourself, No, wait, this can’t possibly be the meet cute, because who’s that pale little person with the red hair? That woman simply won’t do.
And this Samaritan woman simply won’t do in so many ways. Not only is she from the wrong tribe, she’s also just the wrong type of girl. She isn’t a girl at all; she’s a woman, who’s married and lost five husbands, somehow, and who’s now living with a man who is not husband number six. She’s a woman on the wrong schedule, coming to the well at the wrong time of day, choosing to carry her heavy buckets under the hot noonday sun – alone – rather than face the rolling eyes and pursed lips of the other women in town, the ones who had their own meet cutes years ago, whose husbands did not die, or leave town, whose own lives may not have played out like a romantic comedy but who at least played by the rules.
This woman is simply not biblical meet cute material. Women at the well are supposed to have something to offer. They’re supposed to be able to offer a family, a home in exile, legitimacy, good blood lines, flocks and herds and, above all, children. This woman can give Jesus nothing – no wealth, no home, and certainly no children. As far as we can tell, she never even gives him the water he asks for. She has absolutely nothing to offer him except her presence and her questions. She has nothing to offer but herself.
But that is actually perfect. For this is no ordinary meeting with an ordinary man. This is a meeting with Jesus Christ, and he is looking for much more than a meet cute. Jesus is looking for much more than just a star, more than a picture-perfect person. Jesus is looking for a woman who is more than meet cute material; he is looking for a woman who is Gospel material. Jesus is looking for more than a person who can fall in love; he is looking for someone who can help others to fall in love too. Jesus is looking for a believer, a convert, an evangelist. And that makes this moment much, much more than a chance, charming encounter between two people. Because ultimately this moment in John’s Gospel places these two characters in the same place for the first time not so that they can fall in love, but so that we can. This meet cute is not so that these two people can find love that lasts a lifetime, but so that we can find love that lasts for all time. This meet cute is not so that these two people can find their soulmates, but so that we can find rest and peace and salvation for our souls.
This meet cute is for us. Because our Lord knows that there are times in our lives when we feel completely unworthy to meet Jesus. We do not feel ready to encounter the presence of Christ in scripture or in worship, and when we do drag ourselves into prayer, we expect little from those moments. After all, who are we? We are nobodies, worse than nobodies, because we know what we’ve done in our lives with our bodies and souls and minds. But hear the promise of this Gospel moment – Jesus isn’t looking for a meet cute; Jesus is looking to meet you. Jesus is already madly in love with you; he is looking to meet you for your sake, for mine, so that our hearts will be sparked into greater love by the grace in his presence.
Jesus is looking to meet you. In fact, he already has. You have already met him by a spring of living water, already been embraced by him even though you had nothing to offer, already been seen and cherished by him in spite of everything you had ever done, already been sealed and marked as his own, forever. The great love story, the greatest of your life, has already begun. God has chosen you to love.
Which means that you have a story to tell, a love story, the greatest ever told. You have a story to tell, where you are made into a star, a believer, an evangelist, where you are the one leaving with a happy, quizzical smile on your face and telling everyone you see I have met a man, and what a man! Come and see. Come meet him, come back to meet him, fall in love again and again, for you are made worthy by his grace. And you are beautiful in his eyes, the star of his heart, the perfect match.
Preached by Mother Erika Takacs
19 March 2017
Saint Mark's, Philadelphia