Gospel Reading Jn. 4:5-42
It’s common for readers and hearers of the Gospel to passover setting details, but Sacred Scripture continues to teach the people of God valuable lessons for spreading the good news of Jesus Christ with littlest detail. A few years ago, I was listening to a sermon from Bishop Robert Barron on the Samaritan woman at the well. His Excellency called this narrative account of Jesus a Master’s class in Evangelization—and so it is!
The details of the setting are crucial for the movements of the narrative account. Jesus leaves Judea due to some religious pressure of the growth of the movement surrounding His ministry. The text prior to the gospel reading informs us that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John the Baptist, although Jesus wasn’t actually baptizing, which means Jesus was delegating the work to his own disciples showing a growth in the movement. Jesus heading toward Galilee passes through Samaritan land, but chooses to enter a Samaritan village, and rest at the local well. It is perhaps an understatement to say that Jewish and Samaritan relations were strained during this time, but Jesus choosing to enter the Samaritan village teaches a lesson in which Jesus was willing to cross ethnic, religious, and gender norms of the prevailing culture to proclaim the gospel—to proclaim Himself as the living water that gives eternal life!
In fact, When Jesus speaks to the woman, she is hostile to Him at first. She replies to His request for a drink, “How is it that you a Jew ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?" In our present age, it’s not hard to imagine in our polarized culture, two folks of opposing sides would have tension between each other, but Jesus doesn’t get defensive, He seeks to break down these barriers by redirecting and proposing the good news of the gifts of God. The narrative is quite beautiful with the woman’s reply that has a hint of irony, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with… are you greater than our father Jacob? Why, yes…yes He is, in fact, greater! And so Jesus explains that He is the source of the water that quenches all desire of thirst and gives eternal life.
Now, the woman assents to the desire of the water Jesus has offered to her. She desires to have this joy and contentment in her heart, so that she doesn’t need to get water at the sixth hour of the day in the burning heat away from the other people in the village. And so Jesus tells her, “Call your husband.”
Now, the pause. She replies, “I have no husband.”
“You are right in saying you have no husband for you have had five, and the one you now have is not your husband,” said Jesus. At this point, the woman know there’s something different about this man that stands before her. She knows that he possesses a supernatural quality of prophetic ability, but yet, had Jesus led with this information, she most likely would have rejected the message. Jesus offered the hope of peace,—the peace from living water—then instructed how the Samaritan woman could obtain this eternal peace after she desired it. Of course, Jesus opens His ministry in Mark’s gospel with the call to repentance, so the evangelizer requires a diverse approach based on the needs of a particular encounter.
Jesus reveals Himself to be the Messiah, the woman leaves and returns to town, but now she is proclaiming the good news to the townspeople of Sychar. This is the goal of making disciples; to go out to the margins, the uncomfortable territories and make fellow proclaimers of the Gospel.