Dig Deeper into Sunday’s Gospel: Read John 4:4–42
I recently started leading a middle school discipleship group at my parish. Being with 11- to 13-year-olds (two of whom are my children) has reminded me just how much we all have a need to belong. Arguably no one deals with insecurity and the need to belong more than middle schoolers. These tweens come to our meetings with defensive walls and false masks that they have constructed as a result of living in our broken world. They keep these securely in place until they feel accepted, loved, and free to be themselves. And once that happens, floodgates open, and they are laughing, talking, and sharing authentically with our group. That is when real transformation occurs; they take hold of their faith and make it personal. They gradually move from outsiders to insiders.
In this Sunday’s gospel, we meet the Samaritan woman, the quintessential outsider. She is living in shame and avoiding others, going to get water in the heat of the day when no one else would be around. Not only was she an outcast because of her lifestyle choices, but she was also a Samaritan, a group considered to be outsiders by the Jews: the two groups had a 400-year history of contempt and avoidance at all costs.
I like to think about who I am in her story. There have been times in my life when, as the result of something that I had done, I desperately wanted to be the outsider. I didn’t want to be noticed. I tried to avoid everyone and everything, just like our friend, the Samaritan woman. Other times, I have encountered Jesus at the well, allowing Him to speak truth, life, and healing to my heart. Those are the best moments! And other times, more recently, I have been the “crazy Jesus lady” running back down the mountain, eager to tell others of the work God has done in my life.
Much like the middle schooler gatherings, the woman’s story starts with her being an outsider and ends with her being on the inside of a new life of faith. Contemplating this can help us evaluate where we are in our faith life and how we can go deeper in encountering Jesus and share Him with others.
A transformation like this doesn’t happen by accident. It’s the result of an encounter—an intentional one. While the Samaritan woman wasn’t expecting what would happen that day, Jesus knew all along.
We see at the beginning of this passage that Jesus “had to pass through Samaria” (John 4:4). The expression “had to” that John often uses in his gospel refers to the necessity to do God’s will. Jesus says, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me” (John 4:34). At least three other times in John’s gospel, Jesus indicates that His mission on earth is to do the will of the Father.
Next, Jesus tells his disciples to “look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest” (John 4:35). He sets the example with the Samaritan woman of how the disciples are to go into the world and bring others to Him. Nothing about this story was an accident—this was an intentional encounter and one that embodied Jesus’ mission on earth from beginning to end.
C.S. Lewis writes in his book, Mere Christianity, “He [Jesus] came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has—by what I call ‘good infection.’ Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.”
So often, we can get caught up in what we should say or how we should evangelize in the moment that we miss the opportunities right in front of us. The first step, as Jesus so beautifully and simply shows, is to be available and willing to go out of our way for an encounter with another.
One of the first principles I learned in Walking with Purpose was to look for the furthest woman out. This means we are always searching for the outsider: the woman who feels like she may not belong, the woman on the fringes. We are always ready to go out of our way to invite her into community.
So I have a challenge: can you be available and go out of your way for the outsider God puts in your path this week?
With you on the journey,
Food for thought or journaling…
Where is God calling me to be available for an encounter with someone this week? Remembering times I’ve felt like an outsider, how can I search for the furthest person out in my midst and invite them in?
Lord, You see me and love me for who I am. You continually invite me to go deeper. Show me how You call me to encounter someone who needs Your love and mercy. Give me the courage to be available and willing to go out of my way like Jesus does for me. Amen.
 Barclay, The Gospel of John, Volume One (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017), 174-175.
 Martin and Wright, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015), 81.
 John 5:19, John 6:38, John 5:30, John 9:4.
 Martin and Wright, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015), 91.
 Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity (South Korea: HarperCollins, 2001), 177.