THE STRANGER’S VISIT
By: John Dalla Costa
Not surprisingly for such an amazing story, theologians have rich and diverse interpretations of the woman whom Jesus meets at the well.
Some see her as a harbinger for the church. She was after all the first person in John’s gospel to proclaim Jesus as Messiah. And she pioneered evangelization, converting her whole Samaritan town into welcoming this thirsty Jewish Rabbi as Lord.
The Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar included this passage in his reflection on the nature of eternity. This woman, whose name we do not know, saw Jesus face-to-face, and was transformed by that gaze. She was the same person in the same life, facing the same struggles, toils and joy. But that ordinariness had been pierced and made holy by letting Jesus into her heart, including its darkest recesses. In that ecstatic liberation from despondency and sin, she experienced the deep communion that dissolved what separated Jew from Samaritan, male from female, loneliness from belonging, and the momentary from the eternal.
Pope John Paul II also referenced the Samaritan woman in his apostolic letter on the dignity and vocation of women. This woman had deep knowledge of religion, and incomparable courage in breaking taboos. Risking a remarkable conversation of equals with Jesus, she created a model for prayer: asking questions and seeking understanding; welcoming truth regardless of its discomforts; standing ground with dignity, and yet willingly and humbly confessing failures; petitioning for grace, and then taking personal initiative and responsibility for passing that gift unto others.
Jesus approached the woman as the thirsty one, but she is the one who leaves sated. Midway through our own Lenten journey, we might pray for the audacity to drink what the Lord offers with the relish and abandon of the remarkable woman at the well.