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Woman of Faith and Courage: The Disciple of Samaria

woman at the wellThe story of the woman of Samaria (John 4:4-42) who met Jesus at a well is familiar to us. She is the one that engaged Jesus in a lengthy conversation that moved from drawing water to praying on the mountaintop and finally to the coming of the messiah, at which point she received the astounding revelation, “I who speak to you am he.”
How quickly she left the water jar and ran to the town to announce the good news. She called the people out and asked, “Can he be the Messiah?”, and they followed her. They asked Jesus to stay with them, and as he taught them they came to believe, not merely on her word but on his.
Truly, the Woman at the Well is the Disciple of Samaria!
Yet, recently at each of a series of eight workshops I asked the participants, “Who is the woman Jesus met at the well?” And participants in all eight groups responded, “She’s the one who had five husbands”! This consistent response caused me to wonder why this ardent disciple was remembered only because of her multiple marriages. Perhaps it’s possible to respond in this way because so often she has been presented as “the woman with a past” rather than “the woman with a future.”
She reminds me of my Aunt Elsa, who was divorced before she married my Uncle Al. Some people looked down on her because she had been married before. But she was my favorite aunt: she was a fun-loving, generous, kind, and prayerful woman. She had been through a lot of pain in her first marriage, but she worked hard to provide for her three children. She could bounce back after heartache and love again. She had a future. Elsa and Al had a good marriage. They had no children together, but they adopted a young girl whose mother had put her out because the girl was pregnant and unmarried. They helped her finish school and get a job, and they rejoiced with her when she met the love of her life and married several years later.
The woman at the well also was a very resilient woman. Jesus broke two strict taboos of the culture of that time and place when he asked her for a drink: Jews had nothing to do with Samaritans, and men did not speak to women in public—not even their own wives. But our disciple-to-be, despite the initial shock, quickly entered into conversation with Jesus. She even had a wry sense of humor, “You’ve come to the well, but you have no bucket!” She did not hesitate to ask for the living water he offered. It is true that she had five husbands, but why do we suppose it was because she had poor moral standards? After all, only a man could divorce; a woman could not. Was it her choice, then, to go from one husband to another? A single woman in that culture rarely had any financial means; she depended on her family, most often a male relative if she could not marry.
The Samaritan woman was gifted with insight. She understood more than Jesus’ mere words, “You have no husband.” She realized that he had deeper knowledge of her, and her intuition told her he must be a prophet. So she pursued a theological conversation with him: “Where should people worship—in Jerusalem or on this mountain?” she asked. Jesus replied, “True worshipers worship in spirit and in truth.” From there she made the leap, “The Messiah is coming,” and received the revelation, “I who speak to you am he.” Wow!
All the while, she was yearning for more—for the living water, for spiritual worship, for the coming of the Messiah—and here he was, standing in front of her, revealing her life to her, and quenching her thirst. But she was not one to keep all this for herself: she was a generous and loving woman and ran to share the good news with one and all. She embarked on her first missionary journey, going to her own people.
The townspeople paid attention to her, and they followed her back. I wonder whether they would have come if she was really a woman of ill repute! They must have seen in her what Jesus saw in her. They, too, must have been thirsting for living water, for spiritual worship, for the Messiah.
Take out your Bible and re-read this familiar story. Notice the turning points in the conversation—how the woman seems to change the topic but instead arrives right where Jesus is expecting her. Notice what a good listener Jesus is and how he leads her gently.
After reading the story, set aside some time to have a conversation with the Disciple of Samaria: ask her whatever comes to mind, and see what wisdom she has to share with you.
Reflection/sharing questions
1. Before reading this blog post, how would you have described the Samaritan woman? How does calling her the “Disciple of Samaria” change the focus of the story?
2. Do you know someone who is not popular or who is judged by others but who is a loving, generous person? Have you ever been misunderstood or judged wrongly? How does it feel to know that Jesus doesn’t judge, that he wants to give us living water and to reveal himself to us?
What are some other scripture stories about women that you like? Take time to re-read another woman’s story and have a conversation with her as well. Maybe you’ll want to give her a special name as a result of your conversation.
Sister Marie is a member of the RENEW staff, a Sister of St. Joseph of Cluny, and the Project Leader for RENEW Africa.

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2 Responses to “Woman of Faith and Courage: The Disciple of Samaria”

  1. Debbie Wentworth says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your reflection. I love hearing/reading reflections on the women in scripture. I am saving this one for use with a women’s group I hope to start at my new parish.
    Will you be writing more??
    Thanks again, and blessings for the new year.

  2. S Honora says:

    Refreshing to look at this woman from all sides. Thanks

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