In the Scriptures, we see examples of disciples at different stages of their journeys. For the next few weeks of Lent, we will explore three different encounters with Jesus and what these encounters tell us about discipleship. We will focus first on perhaps one of the best-known stories in the Bible: Jesus and the woman of Samaria (John 4:1–42).
In this story, Jesus approaches a Samaritan woman and strikes up a conversation with her at the mundane setting of a well. The encounter leaves her transformed, and she rushes to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with others as a result of this one experience. What happens?
In short, the Samaritan woman encounters Jesus Christ and has a profound experience of love and mercy. The Samaritan woman develops trust in the man who dares to speak to her, who, as a Samaritan and a woman, was a marginalized person in Jewish society. Not only does Jesus quench her thirst for water, but he quenches her thirst for “living water” (John 4:10).
As disciples, what can we learn from this story?
Listen intently with the goal of understanding.
We often listen to respond, not to understand. With the Samaritan woman, Jesus teaches us that others are most open to new insights only after they have been heard, respected, and honored. The same is true of all those we come into contact with. A key skill in this regard is asking questions. Seldom did Jesus ever answer the questions posed to him directly; more often than not, he answered a question with another question. Questions encourage natural curiosity and draw people ever deeper into an encounter with Christ.
Even though Jesus seems to know all about the Samaritan woman’s situation, he does not seek to judge or condemn. Jesus’ open presence draws her near to him, and she gradually opens herself to the possibility of change. The Samaritan woman wants to know more and tell others what she has experienced and whom she has met. In doing so, she runs to share the Good News that we are all loved by Jesus. She offers her compelling testimony to those who have not met Jesus; they can still encounter him in and through her story.
Bring light and hope, not darkness and shame.
What is often overlooked in the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman is the place where the encounter with Jesus takes place: the well. What do you see when you look into a well? If you peer down into the inky blackness, all you see is darkness. But if you are at the bottom of the well and look up, what do you see? Light. Jesus and the Samaritan woman meet at a place where light and darkness come together. Each of us is a mixture of light—our desire to follow Christ—and darkness—our sin. Jesus is clearly able to look into the heart of the Samaritan woman and encourages her to look up and see the light. Instead of focusing on her darkness, he focuses on the light within her. When we encounter others, rather than look down into the well of their darkness and sin, we should look at the light within them, even if it’s only a sliver.
When we encounter others, we would do well to follow Jesus’ example. In his encounter with the Samaritan woman, we see how he presents her with a warm and inviting presence. We may encounter those who may be passively participating in the life of the Church or have not yet built bonds of trust with Christ. We may encounter people like the Samaritan woman at the grocery store, on the subway, or sitting next to us on an airplane. The Samaritan woman may be a sibling, a cousin, or an old friend. Nobody is ever too far from an encounter with Jesus if we hold a spark of love in our heart for every person we meet.
What insights have you gleaned from the story of Jesus and the woman of Samaria? Share them with us here!