Recently I saw a post on Facebook that pictured an empty park bench with the question, “if you could sit on the bench with someone and have a conversation, who would it be?” In my mind, I went through a list of people including my mom; world leaders, prophets, presidents and celebrities but I didn’t choose any of them. As a Christian, I suppose the obvious answer should be Jesus or God but I don’t like being that predictable, however fascinating they would be. In the end, I would like to sit and have a conversation with the Samaritan woman from the Gospel of John. I think she is fascinating.
Through my research, I developed a real affinity for this woman and admired her daring conversation with Jesus. This story began at Jacob’s well, which both Jesus and Samaritan woman could claim as an ancestor. A dialogue ensues despite the fact that the Samaritans and the Jews hated each other and men did not engage in such conversations with women on purpose. The woman understood the taboo and questioned Jesus about his lack of decorum. He didn’t seem at all bothered by the absence of protocol and went on to engage her in a conversation of a number of topics regarding living water, her 5 husbands and the differences in their religious practices. They had a lively debate and towards the end of their discussion, she even heard Jesus claim to be the great “I AM.” She was so impressed with him and his message that she ran into the town and brought the village people to the well to hear Christ’s message for themselves. In fact, she became the first evangelist in the Gospel of John.
This is such and important text for women and believers as an example of how an encounter with Jesus changes the expected to the unexpected. This encounter was radical in so many ways. This Samaritan woman showed herself to be intelligent, courageous and bold in this exchange with a Jewish teacher. Jesus revealed that she mattered as a person by offering her life-giving water; acknowledging how difficult life could be as a first century woman and more importantly, he gave her an opportunity to be in God’s presence. He also empowered her to give voice and bear witness to her “community” and invite them to meet this Jewish teacher who offered some thing new and different in his message of love and acceptance. I believe this encounter also changed Jesus. This woman acknowledged him as a Jewish Rabbi, a prophet and the Messiah. She helped bring the love of Christ into a foreign hostile country. This unnamed woman paved the way for the disciples as Jesus states it so well, “One sows and another reaps. I sent you (disciples) to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” (Jn 4: 37-38) This woman of Samaria helped to start a revolution after her encounter with Jesus. The Samaritan woman’s journey with Jesus reveals new insights about her status, her beliefs, her people, her faith and her gender role. Through her courage, tenacity and curious intellect, the Samaritan woman demonstrates to us, her freedom to question the boundaries that separate people. But also to overcome prejudices, and prejudgments to “come and see” the Messiah and then obey the call to discipleship as Jesus says, “follow me” (Jn 4:29). Because of Jesus, people are changed. As you can guess by now, this woman of Samaria would be a fascinating person to sit with me on a bench and discuss our life stories and how an encounter with Jesus changed both of us.