The story of the Samaritan woman (John 4: 1-26) shows how God works his purposes even in the damage we do to ourselves and to one another, and in the hurt which we inherit from previous generations.
The Samaritan woman is connected to the pain of her people and to the pain which she may have caused to those close to her. She brings to her encounter with Christ the memories which have helped to shape her self-understanding. They are mixed up with the thoughts and feelings of everyday life, ranging from the familiar and mundane to those which might have been more difficult to describe, or even to own. Jesus sees all of this and surprises her with a truth about herself and about her people which, until then, she had not known. This can happen to anyone and at any time. God surprises us with the truth in the most ordinary contexts, when our minds are free from the distractions of habit or of compulsion.
In such moments we can experience a kind of solid peace, and at the same time know that for much of our lives we have been deluding ourselves, hiding from ourselves and from the events and actions of the past. Peace is only really peace when it is shaped, often painfully, by having to come to terms with the truth.
This is what the Samaritan woman is experiencing in her encounter with Jesus. She realises, perhaps for the first time, that she is not happy. Until now, she may not have been aware of how her life has impacted on others, especially those to whom she is responsible, children, older parents, friends and perhaps most significantly, life partners. She has not yet begun to address the sort of questions which would enable her to begin to move out of her own particular cycle of denial and self destruction.
Suppose for a moment that it is you who Jesus encounters today. Perhaps the two of you are waiting for a train and, as can happen on station platforms, you pass the time of day. Superficial chat turns into the kind of empathetic exchange in which what little is said somehow resonates with your private longings and unspoken fears. You tell him things. This is not the same as being suddenly caught off guard and finding yourself telling a stranger things about yourself or your past life which you might later regret. In fact, the opposite is true. This is a moment in which you understand yourself, perhaps for the first time, because you sense that you are already understood and taken seriously. You trust this person. In the manner of his listening, Jesus conveys the truth to you, that you are known to God – and that you are alright. He has given you back to yourself by telling you, perhaps without speaking a single word, ‘all that you ever did’.