Today we read one of the most tender passages of the Gospels. Jesus shows the Samaritan woman gentleness and patience in the gradual revelation of his love and mercy.
As the conversation develops, the Samaritan woman addresses Jesus with different titles and these titles mark the stages in her conversion.
The first stage is mockery. Jesus starts the conversation by asking for a drink. The woman answers with mocking surprise and refers to Jesus as Jew (v. 9). This response also reflects the irregularity of the encounter. For two reasons, Jesus should not speak to her – first, she is a woman and second, she is a Samaritan.
In the second stage, after Jesus speaks to her about the gift of God and the living water, the woman shows a certain openness by using the title “sir” (v. 11).
There is a specific contrast between the first and the second title—the first mocking title changes to a more respectful one. Over the course of the interaction, the Samaritan woman grows in respect for Jesus.
In the third stage, after Christ tells the Samaritan woman that she has had five husbands, and he whom she now has is not her husband, she calls Jesus a prophet. Over the course of the previous two stages, she began to let down her guard towards a stranger, but now in the third she begins to suspect who Jesus really is. She wants to test Jesus by asking him about the place of true worship (v. 20).
This is not yet a final confession of faith in Christ, but she is on the right path.
We arrive then at the fourth stage – Messiah. Jesus answers the woman elevating her to another level: “Woman, believe me” (v. 21). This response is an appeal to the woman’s faith.
Christ explains that the time is coming soon when true worshipers will worship the Father in “spirit and truth” (v. 21 and 23). He also tells her that “salvation is from the Jews” (v. 22).
The woman’s response implies an even more profound suspicion of who Jesus is. She says, “I know that the Messiah is coming; when he comes, he will show us all things” (v 25). The use of the term Messiah takes her growth in the understanding of Jesus a step further.
Christ’s answer is astonishing: “I am he, the one speaking with you” (v. 26). This absolute use of the expression “I Am” is very important. This expression is always used in the Old Testament to refer to the living presence of God, who makes himself known among his people.
The disciples arrive, and the woman goes to the city and calls people in the town to see Jesus asking, “Can this be the Christ?” (v. 29). Her recognition of Jesus has moved another step. Her faith is like that of Nathanael (John 1:48-51); she believed because of Jesus’ insight into her life.
Finally, we arrive at the final stage. While the Samaritan woman goes to the city, Jesus speaks with his disciples. And then, we can see two moments in the conversion of the citizens: first, they believe because of the word of the woman (v. 39), and after that, they believe because they heard for themselves. So, they give Jesus the title: “Savior of the world” (v. 42). This is the last stage and, at the same time, the full recognition of Christ’s claims: “I Am.”
In the stages of faith of the Samarian woman, we can see stages of any conversion and how Jesus mercifully approaches everyone, no matter how far we might be from him.
Let us trust in the gentleness of Christ, who invites us to turn our hearts back to him in this Lenten season. With a heart filled with patience, compassion, and mercy, Jesus is waiting for us. Let’s throw ourselves into his loving arms.