Some Christian Communities have named the woman at the well, “St. Photine” and others call her, “St. Svetlana.” Both names mean, “Bearer of Light.” Another story claims that she was martyred under the Emperor Nero. She supposedly spat in his face when he subjected her to torture and demanded that she sacrifice to idols. While there is no historical evidence to validate any of these stories, they do highlight the fact that she was one of Christ’s first evangelists.
Although the Gospel text does not say this, scholars believe that she spent much of her life enslaved as a concubine. The strictness of the ancients codes of marriage make it unlikely that she was married five times. A concubine was freed from her slavery when her master stopped providing food, clothing and marital rights. Much of what is said of the Samaritan woman fits this image. At this point in her life, it seems that she has won her freedom.
However, legal freedom is not spiritual or emotional freedom. She is haunted by her past and very lonely. At present, she is with a man who has no permanent obligations to her. When people are in love, they create boundaries to protect their love and to foster its growth. We call these boundaries the religious and legal laws of the marriage covenant. When they are observed and respected, the love of husband and wife blossoms and grows.
Since this is not the case for her, the Samaritan woman rushes out in the noonday heat while everyone else is taking shelter. A Christian could easily understand why Christ wanted to save her. It is striking that Jesus did not send her away and admonish her to obey the religious and civil laws. Instead, He makes her an evangelist.
Jesus sees in us what we often overlook. Moreover, His love can illumine our minds and hearts. Jesus calls each of us to a life we cannot imagine for ourselves. The Samaritan woman had a tragic and complicated past. Nevertheless, as she experiences the foretaste of her own resurrection, she becomes the fountain of hope for everyone in her village.
During the season of Lent, the Church calls us to reflect on our own Baptism. It is only because of Christ’s death and resurrection that we can share in the same hope that healed and empowered the Samaritan Woman. The light of Christ shining in our minds and hearts lifts us from our difficulties and sends us out carrying the Light of Christ to those who need to see His light.