The Mystery Woman – Who was she, anyway?
(Gleaned from the website of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada)
She must have been important, because according to John’s Gospel (John 4:5-42) she was the one to whom Jesus first admitted that he was the Messiah. Is it really plausible to think that Jesus just blurted out this important news without knowing what he was doing?
Who was she? The Scriptures never even give her name – we just know her as “the woman at the well.”
Why did Jesus choose to speak to her? – after all, a Jewish man was never supposed to address an unaccompanied woman; and the Jews of that time had not been getting along with Samaritans for over 800 years. The conversation took place near midday, when the woman chose to come to the Well of Jacob alone – we’re led to believe she was there to avoid the social opprobrium of her peers. The other village women would have gathered at the well earlier in the day to fetch the water they needed and to socialize. But not this gal…whoever she was, she was an outsider.
The Bible doesn’t exactly overwhelm a reader with a lot of female voices – yet this woman is quoted at length, talking to Jesus, challenging or even contradicting him, and being in turn, challenged so very deeply, herself.
We’re never told why she had had five husbands. The point is, in the account we’re given here, Jesus didn’t condemn her: the conversation that started out as an acknowledgement of right and wrong was really designed to show her that he already knew all about her – and yet still chose to engage with her, in spite of all the religious, cultural and racial barriers.
Jesus saw something in that woman – and moved the conversation to a deeper level.
I think Jesus knew exactly who this person was, just as He knows exactly who each of us is. I think He also knew exactly who she could be – and knows exactly all that we could be, too
More about the Mystery Woman
On this year’s World Day of Prayer, I found myself in a United Church, and the Minister asked if any of us had ever heard of Saint Photini. We were from many Christian traditions – but none of us had heard of her.
I guess we could all be forgiven if we don’t have an icon of Saint Photini hanging from our rear view mirrors…but if you look her up on the internet, you’ll find her all over, and you might discover a new female heroine.
You see, among the Orthodox Churches of the East, it is said that the woman at the well, this woman who went on to evangelize her entire village, was baptized by the Apostles and given the beautiful name Photini, which means, “The Enlightened One.”
In the Eastern traditions, Photini is revered as “the first to proclaim the gospel of Christ.” Even though I had never, ever heard of this anonymous woman, I’ve been trying to reflect on how Photini’s story might give us food for thought this Lent.
You know, it occurs to me that this Gospel story wants us to understand Photini as an example of someone whose encounter with Jesus changed everything.
It seemed that yesterday, the village mocked her…and today, they all listened to her words about Jesus Christ.
This is a story about someone who, by receiving the gift of “living water,” was able to break down the barriers she previously faced. She was given “new life.”
It seems to me that what Photini did after meeting Jesus was much more interesting than what she did before. Isn’t that what Pope Francis is trying to have us understand when he refuses to condemn, but rather asks, “Who am I to judge?”
Every saint has a past; every sinner has a future. If we really believed that, and acted as if we believed that – how different would we, and our faith community, be?
Text from the Sunday Reflection given at St. Joseph’s Parish & Sanctuary, Ottawa, ON by Joe Gunn.