The woman at the well did not know who she was talking to. This is of specific importance in today’s gospel reading (Jn. 4:5-42). To her this man was some strange Jew – particularly strange in the fact that he would talk to a Samaritan woman.
A danger in the life of faith is that we turn faith and Jesus himself into an idea. The problem with that is that in order to grasp an idea you have to have it all figured out. Also, ideas are passive. They wait for our acting upon them. Jesus is not an idea, he is a person and faith is not an ideology, it is an encounter. People can introduce themselves to us without our expectation. It happens all the time. Some person comes up to us on the street or in the store. People are active. They can necessitate an encounter. This is what Jesus did at the well. “Give me a drink,” he asks of the woman.
You may have seen the painting of Jesus standing at the door and knocking. An aspect of that painting is that there is no door handle on Jesus’ side of the door. He stands waiting. There is some truth to that depiction of Christ. In faith there is an element where we have to open the door to Christ and let him into our lives. But, in light of today’s gospel, this image falls far short. Christ initiates! Not only does he not stand meekly rapping on the door, he busts the door down! “…whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst … You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.” We should imagine a stranger approaching us in the supermarket and saying something similar in regards to our life. How would we respond? However we might respond, I doubt we would regard that stranger as a passive, shrinking violet.
The Christ that we proclaim as Christians is a person – a person who once was dead and who now lives. A person who can enter into our lives however and whenever he so chooses. Frankly, keeping Christ as an idea can be a mechanism on our part that we deploy to keep Christ and the fullness of the demands of the gospel on our life at bay. It is much easier to put off an “idea” as a nice thought for “sometime down the road” than it is to put off a person who is staring us in the face and whose presence necessitates a response. Christ necessitates a response.
In the fifth chapter of Luke’s gospel we find the call of Simon Peter. It is interesting to note how Luke presents this call. Jesus sees two boats on the shore and the fishermen washing their nets. Luke then writes, “Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land.” Then after teaching for a while, Jesus says to Simon, “Put out into the deep and lower your nets for a catch.” In neither instance does Jesus ask permission. He did not ask Peter’s permission to get into the boat, he just got in. Then, he tells Peter (an accomplished fisherman) to lower the nets. Jesus walked into the very midst of Peter’s life, even his livelihood, and totally redirects it. An idea cannot do this, only a person can.
Keeping Christ as an idea might seem safe and comfortable but it limits and even deadens life. It was only through her encounter with this man who is Jesus that the woman at the well found healing from the scars she bore and the pain that had hardened her heart. Freed from that burden she, who had been the outcast of her village, became the messenger who helped to bring her fellow villagers to believe in Christ.
Jesus is not an idea, he is a person and faith is not an ideology, it is a living encounter.
The woman said, “I know that the Messiah is coming…” Jesus responds, “I am he, the one speaking with you.”