- Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator
The woman in today’s Gospel teaches us a valuable lesson about faith. In order to come to learn that lesson, it might be helpful to contrast her path to faith with that of the man who appears in the third chapter of St. John’s Gospel. Of course, I speak of Nicodemus.
Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the middle of the night. Even though we are in the very first chapters of the Gospel, animosity toward Jesus among the Pharisees is already evident. As a Pharisee, Nicodemus, though intrigued by the teachings of Jesus, is careful to protect himself. He visits Jesus under the cover of darkness. Although Nicodemus eventually comes to believe, the third chapter ends without resolution.
On the other hand, the Samaritan woman encounters Jesus at noon, in the full light of day. She is running a similar risk to that of Nicodemus. First of all, she could be seen conversing with a man in a public space, a strict taboo in her culture. Secondly, she is speaking to an enemy. She has come to the well at noon, not the usual time for drawing water. She has come alone, not the usual practice. Women usually went to the village well in the morning and in the evening. They also went in groups. The fact that this woman is alone and drawing water at noon may indicate that she is an outcast in her own village. Yet she engages Jesus in a conversation that eventually draws her to faith. She goes from calling Jesus “Sir,” to regarding him as a prophet, and finally to recognizing him as the anointed one, the Messiah. Unlike chapter three of the Gospel, the issues of the fourth chapter are fully resolved.
The woman’s faith in Jesus is born through their conversation, a very stylized interchange. Each of them, Jesus and the woman, speaks seven times. (Remember that seven is the perfect number in this culture.) Though the conversation may seem at times to be rather disjointed and rambling, Jesus carefully reveals himself in stages, appealing to her need and expressing concern for her daily life. As the conversation unfolds, the glimmer of a flickering faith catches hold and eventually burns so brightly that she carries the Good News back to her fellow townsfolk and shares that faith with them. Through her missionary efforts, she epitomizes the Christian vocation of generous sharing in faith. Like so many in the Gospel, her faith has saved her.
In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul expresses in theological terms what the Gospel story illustrates. Through faith in Jesus, we are made righteous (enter a right relationship). God’s love for us, fully revealed in the redemptive death of Jesus, has saved us. As we move ever closer to the renewal of our Baptismal promises, the Gospel reminds us of how important that faith in Jesus truly is.