By Canon Gerry Conroy
I wonder about the Samaritan woman at the well. Some people point out that she was at the well at midday, a time of day when she wouldn’t have expected anyone else to be there. I suppose someone who had been through five marriages and was into her sixth relationship could well be avoided by other women in the village. She certainly seems to have been a bit of a feisty character, going by the way she engages with Jesus, but I think also after being through five marriages she was probably also questioning if there was something wrong with her. Why couldn’t she hang onto a husband? Was she just a complete failure? To that extent she was just an extreme case of everyone else who is searching for a life that is fulfilled and just can’t seem to find it, can’t understand what they are doing wrong that life is just not what they had hoped it would be like; people who blame themselves for everything.
I suspect that most people who come to faith nowadays have something in common with that woman: they are all searching for something to make sense of their life, something that gives a way to bring wholeness to their life. Perhaps people who are brought up with faith don’t always realise how lucky they are because that meaning, has always been around, even if sometimes it has only been in the background waiting to be brought to the fore.
This Gospel is really a story of someone coming to faith, of finding the answer that had been missing, but it is important even for those who have always known the importance of faith in their life, because in the woman’s encounter with Christ, it brings us to the heart of what faith is. In that regard, it’s significant that she said, ‘he told me everything I have ever done’. Everybody in the village probably knew everything she had ever done – you know what it can be like in small towns, there’s no privacy. But what was different with Christ was that he wanted to speak to her and not shun her. She felt accepted. What is that feeling of acceptance about unless it is about feeling loved. In faith, first must come that experience of love, of being accepted. Only afterwards comes an understanding of sin. We only truly understand what it is that is lacking in our life when we understand what love is. It’s a bit like that saying, you only understand what you had when it is gone. When we understand what is lacking, that this when we become open to repentance. That is the journey to faith. And with the coming of faith we realise that it is this love that is the foundation of everything. But we also know that love needs a response, not a general idealistic response, but a response to a particular love, because love is not generic, impersonal, it is a concrete experience, its source is from a particular person and it is to that person that we must respond, if love is to be real.
This Gospel reminds us that our faith is a response to a person; our life as believers is a response to person in the same way that your love for your family colours everything you do because it is part of you. So the villagers in the Gospel came to faith by what they heard from the woman, but the fullness of faith came when they themselves met Christ. In the Sacraments we meet Christ, in Baptism, in the Eucharist and that meeting teaches us how to recognise him and live so that he is in every part of our life.