Last week, as we reflected on Jesus’ words, “Do not be afraid,” one of the fears mentioned was “Do not be afraid of God revealing you to yourself.” In our Gospel reading for this Sunday (John 4:5-42), we see that Jesus revealed a Samaritan woman to herself, and then revealed Himself to her, and how all that led to great conversion.
An important point that Scripture scholars point out is that Jesus meets this woman at Jacob’s Well, in a Samaritan town, at noon. Noon is not the usual time of day when people went to the well, but as we see later on, this woman probably went to the well when no one else was there to avoid the dirty looks and back-biting that she usually got from the other townspeople.
So perhaps she was startled to see another person at the well, who she can tell is a Jew. And then, to her astonishment, Jesus speaks to her, and asks her for a cup of water! Remember, Jews and Samaritans had no use for each other. So, the woman remarks on this, and she and Jesus have an exchange that goes beyond getting a drink of water to Jesus speaking of a different kind of water: “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” And so the woman asks for this kind of water, so she wouldn’t ever have to go to the well again.
And here is where Jesus reveals her to herself. He tells her to ask her husband. She replies, “I do not have a husband.” And Jesus tells her that she speaks truthfully. She has had five husbands, and the one she is with now is not her husband. There has to be something in the way that Jesus said what He said, because what happens next is truly remarkable. Instead of getting offended, or angry, she stays and recognizes that Jesus is a prophet, and when Jesus tells her that, instead of focusing on a specific place, people will “worship the Father in Spirit and truth,” the woman speaks about the coming of the Messiah, and Jesus tells her that He is the Messiah.
Now here is another remarkable occurrence. The woman goes to the rest of the townspeople, the ones she avoided by coming to the well at noon, and tells them about Jesus, and could He be the Messiah! And the people listen to her testimony! The people in the town ask Jesus to stay, and then many more people begin to believe in Him.
It’s a remarkable thing! Does this remarkable set of events have anything to say to us? This set of events tells me a few things. If you’re thirsting for something that no one or no thing seems to be able to satisfy, go to Jesus. As He did with the woman at the well, He will confront you with the truth, but He is not here to condemn you. He is here to save you. And if you want to give witness, you don’t have to memorize the Bible or Church law. You can simply say, “There is someone who knows what I have done and still loves me.”
And as far as being church, we can be like the gossipers, convinced of our own righteousness, and pass judgment on others, or we can be like what the townspeople wound up being, willing to listen to someone’s story, and be willing to accept their conversion, as we hope others will accept ours. We can live out the words of St. Paul in our second reading (Romans 5:1-2, 5-8): “And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” We can be messengers of God’s love in Jesus Christ, bringing hope and compassion to a hurting world. We can help bring down the barriers we have created for ourselves, just as Jesus did with the Samaritan woman, and indeed, the whole Samaritan town.
May we not be afraid and let the living water of Jesus’ love satisfy our thirst, and may we share this living water with others.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P., is the local superior of the Passionist Community in Birmingham, Alabama.