The Unexpected Encounter

3rd Sunday of Lent

Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well is a gospel reading that can be meditated upon endlessly. Today, I want to focus on three things that the Samaritan woman’s experience tells us about what we can expect when we encounter Jesus.

1. It’s Personal

There are only two players in this drama – Jesus and the woman. She has come to the well by herself. Jesus’ disciples have gone to town to buy food. It is just the two of them, speaking directly to one another.

As Christians, we are part of a larger community. We are all part of the Church, the Body of Christ. Even desert hermits are still joined to a community that they check in with from time to time. You cannot be a Christian in isolation.

But we come into this body of believers as individuals. Jesus comes to us as individual people and invites us to be a part of something much larger than ourselves. This is because He loves us individually, not as some nameless and faceless member of an amorphous group. Each of us must, at some point in our lives, make that personal decision to engage in a relationship with Christ. No one else can make that decision for you.

2. Jesus is Direct

Jesus does not mince words with the Samaritan woman. She has made bad decisions in life. She is not living as she ought to be. And Jesus calls her out. He does not do so in a demeaning or harsh way. But He doesn’t gloss over the issue, either, pretending everything is OK. Everything is not OK. She knows it. He knows it. Jesus simply tells it like it is. “You have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.”

Jesus knows you are a sinner. He knows each one of your sins, more clearly than you do. So there is no need to hide your sins from Him, or pretend that you are OK when you are not OK. If you want to have an honest and meaningful encounter with Christ, expect Him to be direct with you (even if it stings a little — or a lot). This kind of direct and open honesty is key to true repentance and healing. Jesus offers spiritual healing, but we cannot be healed unless we are willing to acknowledge the disease that is our sin.

3. It is Transformative

The Samaritan woman does not end where she began in this encounter. She leaves with a totally different perspective about Christ and about herself. We see this clearly by just looking at how she addresses Jesus. 

She begins by calling Him simply “a Jew.” For her, as a Samaritan, being a Jew makes Jesus an “other” — someone on the outside. Then she calls Him “Sir,” a more formal title of respect. She later calls Jesus “a prophet,” after He reveals the truth of her marital situation. Finally, she recognizes Jesus as “Messiah” the anointed one of God. After only a brief exchange, she begins to see more clearly who Jesus really is, and is herself transformed as a result.

She begins this gospel story as a woman isolated from her community, coming alone to draw water at the hottest time of day (ostracized perhaps because of her scandalous past). She ends the story by running back to the community, proclaiming the good news that she has met the long awaited Messiah who offers healing and hope.

This is what we can expect to happen to us when we encounter Jesus. It will be personal. He will be direct with us. (There is no need to hide our sins from Him, so we can and should be open about them, especially in the confessional). And it will transform us. Once we encounter Christ, we will not be the same person as we were before. 

There is one final characteristic of the Samaritan woman’s encounter with Christ that we should consider. It is unexpected. I imagine that she began her day like any other. When we first see her, she is doing just one of many mundane tasks of the day; drawing water from the well. Little did she expect that she was about to meet One who would tell her “everything [she] had done” and offer her “living water” so that she “will never thirst again.” We should likewise be open to our own encounter with Christ in the midst of our day-to-day lives, even when we least expect it. 

We must be open to that unexpected encounter. Things could have gone differently with the Samaritan woman. She could have refused to speak with Jesus. She could have turned and walked away. But she didn’t. She was open to the words Christ spoke to her. She recognized Jesus as the Messiah because she was open to finding Him. 

This Lent especially, and every day throughout our lives, may we, too, be open to an unexpected encounter with Jesus; one that will transform us, if we allow it to. And having found Him, let us, like the Samaritan woman, not hesitate to bring the good news of our joy to all those whom we meet. 

This reflection first appeared March 17, 2017