From the Gospel of John:
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there for two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – John 4:39-42 (NRSV) – January 25, 2014.)
These few verses are the end of the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well which led to his two-day sojourn in the Samaritan city of Sychar. Whenever I have heard this story preached (and, I confess, when I have preached it myself), the emphasis seems always to be on the Lord’s daring to speak with a woman, and a Samaritan woman, at that! The focus is his unconventionality, his willingness to step outside the Law, and his abrogation of ethnic and sexual norms. We are told how extraordinary this encounter was.
What strikes me this morning is how very ordinary it really was. The water remains water. The woman is not saved from an angry, legalistic mob. No one is healed; no one walks on water; no large crowds are fed. The dead are not returned to life. Despite its radical breaking of boundaries, this is a very boring story with a remarkable ending: two people meet, they talk, one of them talks to other people, the other people talk to the second person, and many people come to faith and belief as a result.
Immediately after this event, Jesus returned to his home territory, to Cana in Gallilee, and complained of a royal official, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” (John 4:48) And even if there are “signs and wonders,” belief may not result. In John’s telling of the events of Holy Week he says of one crowd which Jesus confonts, “Although he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him.” (John 12:37) The contrast between faith which depends on miracles (and may not come even when they are accomplished) and faith which comes from simple conversation is striking and instructive.
It’s also reassuring. It means that a simple person like me, unable to convert water to wine or to heal with a touch, can nonetheless effectively communicate the word of Lord. It means that anyone can do so; if an unremarkable (and, in fact, semi-outcast) woman can bring many to belief simply by telling her story, then anyone can. We don’t need a flashy show of signs of power; we just need to tell our story with integrity and authenticity.
For all its radical social message, the story of Jesus talking with the Samaritan woman at Sychar is simply the story of two people talking. It is extraordinarily ordinary.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.