Readings for Today
The unlikely prophet. That is how I think of the Samaritan woman. Someone who has an unexpected encounter with Jesus that moves her so much she is able to convince a whole village to accept him as the Messiah, the savior of the world. She is an unlikely prophet for a whole variety of reasons.
First, it was unusual for Jews to interact with Samaritans. Moreover, it was even more unusual to interact with a Samaritan woman. The woman asks, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” In almost parenthetical form, the explanation is given: “For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.” Then, there is the fact she has been married five times, and is living with number six. While it is not clear why she was married five times, someone with multiple marriages is not usually a hero of the bible.
When we consider her circumstance, it might be good to think about the Samaritans and the Jews. There is, in the Old Testament, a pretty constant tension between northern Israel, the land of the Samaritans, and southern Israel, the land of the Jews. It begins with the story of Cain and Abel, which can be seen as reflecting the tension between farmers and shepherds. Farmers stayed put, because they planted crops, which occupied a specific geographic location. Shepherds were nomads, needing to move in order that their sheep were able to eat.
We see similar tension in the life of David, a shepherd, who only ruled over the northern kingdom (farmers) for seven of his forty years. And this tension continues between Samaritans, who were indeed foreigners, though similar, and Jews. Jesus surprises not only the woman, but his disciples as well.
But what we see is that while unlikely, Jesus’ mission is beyond simply the Jewish people, and the words and presence of Jesus touch the heart of the Samaritan woman. She comes to believe. She leaves behind the things she brought, so eager has she become to share the good news of Jesus, and the finding of the Messiah, with the people in her village. And she must have been convincing, because the people in the village come right away, ask Jesus to stay, and become convinced by their own experience that Jesus is the savior of the world.
We Catholics might think of ourselves as unlikely prophets. How comfortable are you in having a spiritual conversation with a member of your family, or someone you work with, or even a complete stranger? Are you able to do so, or do you seek to avoid such conversations? We Dominicans are known as the Order of Preachers, but I find myself sometimes reluctant to engage people in conversation beyond the “expected” places like preaching a homily at church.
But the living water we received, at our baptism, is the source of new life that should compel us to share it. Have we found the Messiah? Have we found the Savior of the world? Do we wish to enter more deeply into relationship with Jesus? To be sure, one of the few commands Jesus gave us was to Go, teach, and baptize. If you wish the living water that will cause you never to thirst again, hear the words of Jesus calling you to be the unlikely prophet.