Sr. Nancy Schreck, a Franciscan Sister from Dubuque, Iowa, currently serves as president of her congregation. Sr. Nancy has spent over 20 years working among at-risk youth in rural Mississippi. A former president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, she often serves as a presenter and facilitator for religious groups throughout the nation as well as internationally.
The story of one of the most maligned women of the Scriptures has much to teach us. Without a name, she is known by the region in which she lived and by the faith she held—she is the “Samaritan woman” (John 4:5-42).
While the Samaritan woman is often used as an example of a converted sinner, the text more accurately reflects the conversion process of an already deeply spiritual person desiring greater intimacy with God. She is one of the few people in Scripture to have an in-depth theological conversation with Jesus—the kind of conversation possible only with those who have done some spiritual searching.
The woman explores with Jesus the meaning of true worship, living water, and the identity of the Messiah.
An astonishing conversation!
The conversation happens at a well (a place where water could be found). In the middle of the conversation the issue of marriage is raised.
The Bible uses the themes of marriage and adultery to speak of faithfulness to and betrayal of the covenant with God. So the mention of this woman’s marriages is not an offhand accusatory diversion from the real conversation; instead, it is a significant reference to the woman’s search for God.
The Samaritans were an intermixing of Israelites with five conquered tribes (see 2 Kings 17:24ff), each with their own ruling gods; they were now also worshiping the God of Israel, but on Mount Gerizim—not at the Temple in Jerusalem.
Once we understand this, we can see that literal “husbands” are not the issue. Rather, the story tells us that, like her kinsfolk, the woman has been on a long spiritual journey into relationship with God. She has a deep and growing desire for true worship, and Jesus responds by doing an astonishing thing: he reveals himself to her as the Messiah.
In turn, the woman does what disciples do—she leaves her water jar and goes to tell others about her experience of Jesus.
The call to discipleship
Here we find a perfect example of John’s description of a disciple: one who is willing to leave all to respond to Jesus. While it may be clear to us when Peter, James, and John are called to discipleship and they leave their fishing boats, when it comes to this woman we often miss the point.
Secondly, as true disciples do, she brings others to Jesus so that they can encounter the Messiah themselves. “Many Samaritans from that city believe in him because of the woman’s testimony.”
As we continue our Lenten journey, wouldn’t it be lovely if the people we encounter today could say about us: that they came to believe in Jesus because of the testimony of our