Gospel John 4:5-16,19-26,39-42

‘Give me a drink’

In another context, this question is wholly unremarkable. But here it launches a discussion that radically changes the life of this woman of Samaria.

We know of the social mores that would see such public contact between a man and a woman in first century Palestine as scandalous, and we know too of the hostilities that existed between the Jewish people (like Jesus) and the Samaritans. So, right from the beginning this is an encounter that is out of the ordinary – but following it through, we see that this encounter is increasingly astonishing.

The woman, in fact, recounts how it has changed her life: ‘He told me all I have ever done…’

In her encounter with Jesus, this woman sees herself with a new and profound clarity. No longer does she see herself as identified by her sin. Instead, she sees herself as Jesus sees her. Beloved. Dignified.

The sin, which had up until now defined her, was now seen as it truly was, a distortion of her true self, of who she really is. True love, and her experience of it in and through the person of Jesus clarifies her vision.

This fact is perhaps a little counter intuitive. The philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand writes, ‘love is that which gives us sight, revealing to us even the faults of the other in their full import and causing us to suffer because of them’ (DVH, 12).

This is the kind of vision with which Christ sees this woman before him. Her faults do not define her, but they are not obliterated. They remain present and in his love, he enters into the suffering that those faults cause redeeming them.