Meanwhile, the disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know” (Jn 4:31-32).
The disciples of Jesus had just returned with some food, but Jesus was already fulfilled from his encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. Though one of the longest readings we will experience during Mass, save the Passion narrative, it is one of the most powerful.
From the beginning of this retelling, Jesus again does not recognize social taboos. He engages a woman at the well at noon who is also a Samaritan. None of these three details are in any way minor. Devout Jewish men did not speak with women in public, and they surely did not engage in discussions with Samaritans male or female. The most subtle of details, that the woman is by herself at the well around noon, may well be missed by us who do not frequent many wells.
The most common time to gather water would be the early morning or evening when it was cooler. This would also be an opportunity for social interaction with others doing the same. This woman coming at this time of the day would be sure that she would be alone. This Jesus picks up on when he asks her, “Go call your husband and come back” (Jn 4:16).
From the beginning of the conversation that Jesus initiates to the time she heads back to her village, Jesus engages her and leads her to a higher level. He does not judge her but loves her. He meets her where she is, engages her as she is, but seeks more for her. The blessing is that she is willing to follow his lead. By the end of the conversation, she has gone into her town with the courage of any of the earliest martyrs.
This woman, who came to the well at noon to avoid being seen, now left to return to the people of her village to proclaim that she had encountered the Messiah, a Jewish man. Her witness must have been powerful for the people who most likely had judged her and made certain that she was on the peripheries, came to see Jesus because of her testimony, and then they encountered Jesus for themselves and believed.
Jesus entered the Samaritan woman’s life through her door but she went out of his door. So many of the conversion stories in the Gospels happen in this way. The transformation happened in the lives of people because Jesus made the time to be present with them, he loved and accepted them as they were, and then lead them to realize there was so much more to life than the limited-expression they had experienced. Jesus also helped so many to be free from the self-imposed outsider status from within or exteriorly from the community without.
Jesus seeks to encounter us in the same way and once we have encountered his acceptance and love we are to resist holding on to this gift for ourselves alone, but to go forth to proclaim the good news we have received as did the Samaritan woman. We are to treat those in our realm of influence in the same way as Jesus treated so many.
Evangelization of the Good News is not about Bible-thumping and condemnation. Proclaiming the Gospel is about engaging in and building relationships, being present, and willing to accompany others in their lives and allowing God to be engaged through our relationships. This is when we are at our best and when we too are willing to be engaged and able to allow Jesus to work through us the love of the Holy Spirit is present. Then we too will be able to experience the satisfaction and fulfillment Jesus had with his encounter with the Samaritan woman who was lost but had now been found.
Painting: Closeup of Samaritan woman by the well – The Benedictine Sisters of Turvey Abbey