By Valerie Teets
For The Catholic Messenger
The Word of God, like a well, may seem simple on the surface, but has great depth underneath. This Sunday’s Gospel (John 4:5-42) is no different. Although we receive the words, what would it be like to see and hear the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman? To know the tone? The body language? The theatre geek in me wonders how this would look played out on a stage.
Clearly, the Samaritan woman is surprised by this Jewish man who is speaking to her and asking her for a drink. She’s probably surprised that anyone else was there at the hottest point of the day. Beyond that, what did she feel? Was she annoyed? Personally, I think I might have been. I’ve often heard this woman referred to as an outcast, going to the well around noon to avoid other people. I’d have been annoyed if I was in her place, just trying to get water but confronted by someone I had been taught to avoid and then told to give him a drink. When she points out that she is not the right person to do what he asks, he starts talking about God and “living water.” Now, in addition to being thirsty and annoyed, I would be confused. Maybe that’s why her replies seem a bit sarcastic and evasive to me.
“Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water,” she says to him, maybe thinking, “So I can avoid future encounters like this one.” Then Jesus asks her to call her husband. Moment of truth. Jesus knows her situation, what will she tell him? Does she lie and say, “Alright, I’ll go get my husband?” Does she tell the truth, “The man I live with is not my husband, but I’ll get him?” Instead, she chooses a partial truth, one that should get her out of this situation. “I do not have a husband.”
She seems to be trying to avoid Jesus’ instructions on a technicality, just as she tried to evade him when he asked for a drink. This time, instead of confusing imagery, Jesus reveals with shocking clarity what he knows about her. She seems to get defensive (wouldn’t you?) as she references the difference between their cultures. He acknowledges the difference but steps past it and begins to tell her about the new ways we will worship.
In what seems like one last attempt to end the conversation, she says, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called Christ; when he comes, he will tell us everything.” Maybe she hopes that will end the strange conversation. But Jesus says to her “I am he, the one speaking with you.” Suddenly it’s not the end, it’s just the beginning. Suddenly it clicks and she has to do something about it. If this man really is the Messiah, she can’t keep that to herself.
This is just one way to look at this Gospel. It doesn’t matter what angle you take on the Samaritan woman and her thoughts. Jesus is waiting for us just as he was waiting for her — regardless of our differences, our reactions, whether we are sarcastic and evasive or confused and genuinely curious. Even if we feel an encounter is inconvenient or uncomfortable and we try to avoid what Christ may be asking of us, he’s still there. He knows us, all of our excuses, all of our obstacles. We shouldn’t take for granted how much easier it is now to get water from the tap instead of a well.
Similarly, we should not take for granted that we do not have to wait for a “chance” encounter with Christ at a well. He is waiting where we know we can find him, in the sacrament of reconciliation, in the holy Eucharist, at every Mass and in every adoration chapel. He’s waiting for you and for me. He wants to reveal himself to us, so that we can receive the water that will become in us a spring of water welling up to eternal life. Once we recognize who he is, we can’t keep it to ourselves.
(Valerie Teets is a member of St. Mary Parish in Iowa City.)