In today’s reading from the Gospel (John 4:27-42), Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well part ways. Apparently, she was so taken with the wise stranger, that she left her water jar (a valuable commodity) there in order to hurry back to the town and tell others of her encounter. Although we know of no experience in the field, she seems to be quite the evangelist as she knew just what to say to her friends in order to bring them back to Jesus: “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” As John records the story, he mentions that they (her audience) left the city and came out looking for Jesus.
After a brief interlude that features yet another enigmatic conversation between Jesus and his disciples, John picks the story back up near the end of today’s reading: “Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.” And what was her testimony? She had run across Jesus at the well, and in a short exchange he managed to elicit from her a deep and honest confession of her marital troubles (5 previous husbands and a current live-in boyfriend). Perhaps the act of bearing her soul to the stranger endeared him to her. Maybe the opportunity to unburden herself from her guilt and shame had forged a spiritual connection between the Samaritan woman and Jesus. Or maybe she was just astounded that he was able to “see” into her past. Whatever the reason, the woman was taken with Jesus and spread her excitement to others.
Her word was enough to instill belief (confidence? enthusiasm? life-commitment?) into her fellow villagers, but they wanted to experience it for themselves. They came out to Jesus and asked him to stay with them for a while, and, after two days, they reported, “It is no longer because of [the woman’s] words that we believe, for we have heard four ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” What did they hear? What was it that Jesus said that helped solidify their belief? And why was the transfer of belief from the basis of her testimony to the first-hand experience of Jesus’ preaching important?
I remember a time when I had collected many examples and stories of faith from others, but I didn’t have one of my own. I had heard a number of exciting, inviting, and even compelling stories of faith. They were enough to convince me that I wanted to be a Christian. But I didn’t have a way of putting the Christian story into my own experience. Was I a Christian? Probably. I believed, but my belief was built on the basis of the second-hand testimony of others. That’s enough, I think, to engender faith—as the Samaritans seem to suggest. But I wanted something more. And, eventually, I got it. Although it took some time, I eventually realized that the Christian story is my story, too. Was I any more a follower of Jesus? Not really—the content of my faith was the same. But I, too, had a story to tell—my story, our story. The faith might have been the same, but now it was my faith as well.