In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus speaks with the Samarian woman at Jacob’s well. I remember my grandfather teaching me about this story when I was very little. I do not remember much about my reaction to it at the time. However, in the past few years, I have been very taken by how much we are able to learn.
First, we cannot quickly gloss over the fact that Jesus purposed Himself to minister in Samaria. We glean from other passages, like the Good Samaritan, that relations between Jews and Samaritans were not good at the time of Christ. That might even be putting it lightly. Some might say that Jews and Samaritans harbored a smoldering hatred for each other. Nonetheless, Jesus (a Jew) ventures into Samaria for the purpose of spreading the Good News of the Kingdom of God. Salvation is from the Jews, but it was not to be for the Jews alone. The light came from them to spread over the whole earth, fulfilling what God promised to Abram in Genesis 12.
In Samaria, many people come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah. To Jewish people reading this account or hearing of it, the reaction was likely scandal (as with many other things Jesus said and did). But God does not care much for our being scandalized by His love. We must admit that God loves our enemies. We unjustifiably bristle that He could cause it to rain on their crops and bless them with increase. It might do us well to pray for an increase in the virtue of charity, so that we may step beyond our natural capacities to see other people, even our enemies, as God sees them.
An exercise to help in this regard. Ask yourself a question, “if I were on my deathbed right now, what would I care most about?” Or, “if I were given six months to live, how much of it would be spent on despising other people?” To the first question, I think God wants us to care most about Him, and our relationship with Him. He wants us to think about eternity. In our right minds, we would not spend any of the precious breaths we had left cursing our enemies. To the second question, most people would want to spend time with their loved ones, see the beautiful things of the world, and hopefully think a great deal about their eternal state. As in the shorter timeframe, there would not be much mental room or time to wish or bring ill upon our enemies.
The truth is we do not know if we will be on our deathbeds later today. We do not know if tomorrow will be the day we are told by doctors that we have six months to live. The thought experiment above can be applied to us right here and now. What do we give up by dropping bitterness? What do we lose by praying for those we think of as our enemies? What can we discern from Jesus ministering to the Samarians, showing us that reaching out to those who most dislike us, whom we most despise, is how He wants us to act?
Something else we see in today’s Gospel is that the Samaritan woman becomes an evangelist. No one can encounter the Lord Jesus and remain the same. The woman chooses the right path and proclaims the presence of the Messiah to her fellow countrymen. She is not concerned any longer about the reasons she had to get water in the heat of the day. She simply responds to the Lord, telling others about Him.
The other Samaritans who hear about Jesus also respond in a commendable way. They listen to the woman from the well, they are intrigued, and then they go and investigate the matter for themselves. They then come to have faith in Christ after having been introduced to Him. Here we see a microcosm of the process of evangelization. A person encounters the Lord, they are transformed, bears the fruit of this transformation, and then tells others about the source of it. The grace we receive from God is shared with others gladly.