The woman said, ‘I know that Messiah’ (called Christ) ‘is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.’ Then Jesus declared, ‘I, the one speaking to you — I am he.’ Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, ‘What do you want?’ or ‘Why are you talking with her?’ Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?’
When the Samaritan woman encounters Jesus, what does she do? When the disciples return, it might seem that she simply runs away. After all, it was normal for Jews and Samaritans not to interact, and tensions would have been heightened by the difference in gender. Plus, given all that we learn of the Samaritan woman’s past, and the way in which Jesus reveals his knowledge of it to her, we might think the woman justified for taking flight. If she doesn’t run due to social pressure, perhaps she does out of humiliation or guilt.
Though the Samaritan woman runs away, she does not flee. In fact, she runs to the most unexpected of places: into town. Some people argue that this woman must have been marginalised by her community, for she fetches water not with the other women at the crack of dawn but at midday under the scorching heat of the high sun. This being so, ordinarily she would have no motivation to go to such a public place. She wouldn’t have been welcome there. But this is where her encounter with Jesus takes her; right into the heart of a potentially hostile environment. And there, apparently without fear, she witnesses.
When you encounter Jesus, what do you do? Like the Samaritan woman, sometimes Jesus might present us with a challenge, and we might choose not to embrace him but to flee instead. Encountering Jesus is not always comfortable. For the sake of moving forward in a new direction, looking back and revisiting past mistakes might be required. Failures or wounds buried deep, left long undisturbed, might need unearthing and bringing to the light.
But ultimately, like the Samaritan woman, if we embrace Jesus and allow the discomfort we might end up surprised. First, though by Jesus we are entirely known, when we come to him we are also entirely forgiven and invited to experience wholeness.
Secondly, our encounter with Jesus might take us to unexpected places; into difficult situations or hostile environments which we once wanted to avoid but now see in a fresh light, allowing us to witness in them. When we encounter Jesus, we can go to those places – perhaps tough relationships, or stressful workplaces – with a transformed perspective.
This week, where will your encounter take you?
Alex is a student at Durham University, and soon to begin graduate study in New Testament at Oxford. He blogs at The Coffeehouse Cleric.