The Gospel Reading tells the story of a woman who is worthless by the standards of Jewish society at that time.
Jesus has sent his disciples off for food, and he is sitting at a well when she comes to draw water. There is every reason why he shouldn’t talk to her at all.
First, she is a woman. It is only the disciples’ awe of Jesus that keeps them from asking him what he thought he was doing when they return and find him talking to her, without even a chaperone by her.
Secondly, she is a Samaritan. As she herself points out to him, Jews don’t talk to Samaritans. Samaritans are self-made outcasts, from the Jewish point of view; and self-respecting Jews stay away from them.
And, thirdly, this Samaritan has the sort of history that makes women pariahs even in their home communities. Jesus knows her status, and he lets her see that he does. She has had five husbands—five husbands!—and she is currently living with a man to whom she is not married. Even by the lax standards of our own day, this sort of history would make people look askance at her. In her village, she is undoubtedly a shamed person.
So, taken it all and all, she’s a worthless person, isn’t she? What Jew or Samaritan would want to invite her to lunch?
But, you might be thinking, the savior of the world could certainly spare a crumb even for a shamed Samaritan woman. He could preach to her that her sins are forgiven, you might be supposing, or he could offer her some other kind of pastoral help.
But he doesn’t, does he? No, he asks her to help him. He opens conversation with her by asking her to give him a drink.
And then look at how the story ends: she brings belief in Jesus to her village, and the villagers come to Jesus because of her.
She isn’t worthless then, is she? Indeed she isn’t. On the contrary, because of Jesus, she takes her rightful place among the apostles. The evangelization of the whole village is her accomplishment.
And so when Jesus asks her to care for him, he starts a process that brings her from being worthless to being the apostle to her village.
The remedy of love for human worthlessness is modeled for us here.
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University