The Conversion of the Samaritan Woman

by tribalicious is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The story of the Samaritan Woman at the Well found in the fourth chapter of John’s Gospel is a powerful story of conversion.  It is a story that works on many levels.

On the surface, there is an encounter between a weary traveler and a lonely woman.  The traveler begins a conversation with the woman by asking for a drink.  Through their conversation, the woman is changed.  She returns to her village sharing the excitement of this powerful encounter.

On a cultural level, the encounter is one of breaking through prejudice.  Jesus is a Jewish man.  As a man, he would not enter into a conversation with an unaccompanied woman.  Relationships between men and women were strictly regulated.  According to cultural traditions, Jesus should not have addressed a woman he did not know in a public place.  Yet, that is exactly what he does.

Even more astonishing is that Jesus addresses a Samaritan.  In Jesus’ world, Jews and Samaritans had a long history of animosity (see Ezra 9-10).  Samaritans were detested by Jews even more than pagans.  If Jesus were to speak to a Samaritan according to the customs of his time, his words should have been insulting.  Yet, Jesus responds differently.

Finally, the woman is described as having had five husbands.  She comes to the well in the middle of the day.  Most women in her day would have gone to the well in the cool of the morning.  The well was a place for building community and the women would talk and share stories while gathering the day’s water.  The Samaritan woman avoids the society of other women by coming in the middle of the day.  Perhaps the woman was ashamed of her past (the five husbands) or perhaps the other women had shunned her.  Regardless, she comes to the well alone, most likely because of a scandal, perceived or real.  Jesus would have easily put this information together.  Yet he reaches out to the woman and invites her to conversation.

Ultimately, on a cultural level, we discover that Jesus is not bound by the customs and traditions of his time.  His vision is broader and deeper than any culture bound values.  “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem” (Jn. 4:21).

The words Jesus speaks are important and move us to another level, even deeper than the cultural level… the spiritual level.

Jesus initiates the conversation.  He is waiting for the woman at the well.  God is always waiting for us.  This meeting is not accidental; it has a divine purpose.  Jesus loves her before she even arrives at the well.  He desires her from the depths of his heart.  His first words to the woman are “Give me a drink” (Jn. 4:7).   His thirst is not simply a desire for water; it is a thirst for her soul.  These words open up a spiritual conversation.

I believe that what John records in his Gospel is a bare bones outline of what actually transpired.  As the biblical scholar William Barclay notes,

Now it is certain that all we have here is the briefest possible report of what must have been a long conversation.  Clearly there was much more to this meeting than is recorded here.  If we may use an analogy, this is like the minutes of a committee meeting where we have only the salient points of the discussion recorded (Daily Study Bible, John vol. 1).

Whatever the details, this conversation has a clear progression as the woman reveals more and more of herself and discovers more and more about Jesus.  She begins by confronting Jesus with his cultural limitations, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (Jn. 4:9).  She sees all the boundaries between them.  However, she soon moves beyond those limitations.  She next addresses Jesus as “Sir” (Jn. 4:11), a respectful form of address.  She is beginning to recognize Jesus’ wisdom as she converses with him.  He is no longer an enemy but a respected teacher.  As she reveals more about herself and trusts Jesus more, she dares to ask the question:  Could Jesus possibly be the Messiah?  Jesus clearly states that he is.

The woman has discovered what she has been looking for her entire life.  She leaves to share this good news with her friends.  She has found the source of life, the fountain of living water, that wells up to eternal life (Jn. 4:13-15).

This simple story of one woman’s conversion teaches us a lot about the dynamics of grace in our soul.

Photo Credit: “Jesus and the Samaritan Woman” by tribalicious under CC BY 2.0

Deacon Lincoln’s Log 7-14-13

Deacon Lincoln’s Log 7-14-13

 Faith does not merely gaze at Jesus, but sees things as Jesus himself sees them, with his own eyes: it is a participation in his way of seeing.

Pope Francis Lumen Fidei – Light of the Faith (18)

Jesus is the best teacher who ever lived and today’s Gospel shows why. He is approached by a scholar of the law who wishes to “test” him. This scholar knows the right answers, but he can’t see their meaning. His own knowledge gets in the way.

So Jesus engages in His most effective form of teaching, the parable. This familiar parable of the Good Samaritan invites the scholar to open his eyes and see the world differently. It invites him to see the needs of those around him. Jesus doesn’t teach him a new piece of information, but a new way of seeing. He turns the man’s eyes from knowledge to compassion. He invites the scholar to see the world as Jesus sees it.

In Pope Francis new encyclical on faith, he reminds us that faith is an invitation to see things as Jesus sees them. If we are open to their power, Jesus’ parables help us to see more deeply. Faith is not primarily about information, but about transformation.

Far from divorcing us from reality, our faith in the Son of God made man in Jesus of Nazareth enables us to grasp reality’s deepest meaning and to see how much God loves this world and is constantly guiding it towards himself. This leads us, as Christians, to live our lives in this world with ever greater commitment and intensity. (LF 18 emphasis added)

When we see the world as Jesus sees it we live our lives with commitment and intensity. We know we must act with compassion and justice. Faith demands it.


Lincoln A. Wood

Br. Roger of Taize – Rest in Peace

When I was young, at a time when Europe was torn apart by so many conflicts, I kept on asking myself: Why all these confrontations?  Why do so many people, even Christians, condemn one another out of hand?  And I wondered:  is there, on this earth, a way of reaching complete understanding of others?  Then came a day – I can still remember the date, and I could describe the place:  the subdued light of a late summer evening, darkness settling over the countryside — a day when I made a decision.  I said to myself, if this way does exist, begin with yourself and resolve to understand every person fully.  That day, I was certain the vow I had made was for life.  It involved nothing less than returning again and again, my whole life long, to this irrevocable decision:  seek to understand all, rather than to be understood.

Br. Roger of Taize 1915-2005
On August 16, during a prayer service at Taize,
Brother Roger is fatally wounded by a mentally unbalanced assailant.
  He dies at the age of ninety.

Leo Tolstoy (8-28-1828 to 11-20-1910)

I admit that I am guilty, and vile, and worthy of contempt for failing to carry out Christ’s teaching.  At the same time, not to justify myself, but simply to explain my lack of consistency, I say:  “Look at my life now and compare it to my former life.  You will see that I am trying to live out the truth I proclaim.  True, I have not fulfilled a fraction of Christ’s will, and I am ashamed of this, but I have failed to fulfill his Word not because I do not wish to, but because I have been unable to.  Teach me how to escape from the net of temptations that surrounds me, help me, and I will fulfill Christ’s teachings.  Even without help I wish and hope to fulfill them.  Attack me, I do this myself, but attach me rather than the path I follow, which I point out to anyone who asks me where I think it lies.  If I know the way home and am walking along it drunkenly, is it any less the right way simply because I am staggering side to side?

“If it is not the right way, then show me another way.  But if I stagger and lose the way, you must help me and keep me on the true path, just as I am ready to support you.  Do not mislead me, do not be glad that I have gotten lost, do not gleefully shout, ‘Look at him!  He said he was going home, but there he is crawling into a bog!’  No, do not gloat, but give me your help and support.  For you are not devils in the swamp, but people like me who are seeking the way home.  For I am alone and it cannot be that I wish to go into the swamp.  Help me, my heart is breaking in despair that we have all lost our way.”

So this is my attitude to Christ’s teaching.  I try to fulfill it with all I’ve got.  I not only repent for each failure, but also beg for help in fulfilling it.  And I joyfully welcome anyone who, like me, is looking for the path; and I listen to him.

True Evangelization

Communicating Christ never means trying to impose oneself.  The Gospel is not a vise that clamps down upon another person’s conscience and entraps that person.  A believer from Bangladesh, speaking about those around him who do not know Christ, said, “When you are near a fire, you are warmed.  When the fire of God’s love is in us, does it not shine on those who are close to us, even if we do not realize it?”


I am not a mechanism, an assembly of various sections.

And it is not because the mechanism is working wrongly, that I am ill.

I am ill because of wounds to the soul, to the deep emotional self,

And wounds to the soul take a long, long time,

Only time can help,

And patience, and a certain difficult repentance,

Long, difficult repentance, realization of life’s mistake,

And the freeing oneself from the endless repetition of the mistake

Which mankind at large has chosen to sanctify.

“Healing” by D.H. Lawrence


Dramatic experiences of conversion may have their value but their meaning is in opening a new phase of life. This vow is a commitment to be always a pilgrim, living an ongoing conversion of ones way of life by an ever fuller harmony with the principles of peace, tolerance, selflessness and generosity and the courage to say the truth about injustice.

Laurence Freeman, O.S.B.