The First Evangelist

On the drive to St. Benedict’s Monastery (where I again taking advantage of the Monastery’s Visiting Scholars Program, this time to work on my conversion book), I listened to a lecture by Amy Jill-Levine, part of her Teaching Company course on Great Figures in the New Testament.

This particular lecture, sent to me along with the introductory lecture by my friend Harry, focused on the Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, recorded in John’s Gospel.

I had never before connected the Samaritan woman at the well with the Old Testament stories of women at the well. John’s audience certainly would have, as Levine pointed out, making the contrasts between this women and her encounter with Jesus and the Old Testament encounters with women at wells quite stark.

Levine also draws an interesting contrast between the Samaritan woman and Nicodemus, which occurs fairly close in time to this encounter.

But is was her contrast of the Samaritan woman with the disciples that really struck me. They come back from town and, seeing Jesus with the woman, have questions, but (as so often is the case) they refrain from asking. The woman asks question after question. They urge Jesus to eat physical food and when Jesus replies that he has food to eat of which they do not know, they think he is talking about physical food. The woman forsakes the water for which she came to the well, having understood that the water of which Jesus speaks is something far greater than that, and goes to tell others about her encounter with Jesus.

Indeed, suggests Levine, the Samaritan woman at the well is the first evangelizer: We are told that many of the Samaritans in the town came to believe in Jesus “because of the word of the woman.” No other person (other than Jesus) has this impact during Jesus’ lifetime.

This unnamed woman…a Samaritan woman…is a figure of the New Testament we should remember.