I once taught a student who made me think daily about “building community,” something near and dear to our hearts at ACE. He often sat alone during partnered work in math, simply refusing to engage—he didn’t reach out to the community, but no one reached out to him either.
After some time, I decided to sit down next to him after each math lesson and “set up shop,” making his desk the “teacher’s desk;” I wanted to be available for questions, to re-explain, sometimes even just to nudge and help him refocus. From then on, we worked on math together every day, and as this routine was built, my other students freely came to our desk.
Little by little, this student became the center of our math community, where he was given—and took—regular opportunities to engage with his classmates. In the same way that this student was extended the invitation into community, the woman at the well in the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman (John 4:6-29) was offered and accepted an invitation.
In the story, Jesus meets a woman at Jacob’s well in central Israel, in the town of Sychar. This woman, a Samaritan, is at the well in the heat of the day—what a strange occurrence, for this woman to be in a central communal space at a time when surely very few others were. Knowing this, and that Samaritans and Jews didn’t associate, why would Jesus ask this woman for a drink? He could’ve waited for the disciples to arrive to draw from the well.
In the simple action Jesus took to address the Samaritan woman, he broke through all barriers—of race, class, gender—that separated the two. With his simple command, “Give me a drink,” Jesus shattered expectations and norms, and made way for communion and relationship. You see, Jesus very easily could have sat on the edge of the well and waited for the disciples to bring a water jug. He wouldn’t have needed to say a word to the Samaritan woman, there would be no gospel story about her, and life would’ve kept on. But she also never would’ve received an invitation into community, or the living waters of salvation!
This exchange is a reminder that if we never seek and seize the opportunity to extend an invitation, however meaningful or seemingly insignificant, if we never even sit on the edge of the well, where we might come into contact with others, we will daily miss opportunities to reach out and draw others in.
But as it happened, Jesus reached out, inviting the woman into the life of Christ, and where the Samaritan woman once felt isolation, in an instant, Jesus restored her into the community; where she lived on the margins of society, she was brought to the center of the community through her interaction with Christ.
In a single encounter, Jesus engaged, empowered, restored and reignited the vigor of the Samaritan woman for her own community, and she did the same for the people of her town when she brought the news of Jesus’ arrival. And look at the result! At the end of the chapter, John writes, “many of the Samaritans believed in Him.” That is the impact of drawing into community—drawing people closer to Christ.
As Christian disciples, and especially in light of the expectant delight with which we await the birth of Christ, we must always reach out to those who are on the outside and draw them more fully into community and into God’s love. This call is most clear to us during the Advent season, where we wait with bated breath for the Son of Man to be born, and with his life, invite others and are ourselves into the most beautiful community of which we could ever be a part—the Kingdom of God. Let us await the birth of Christ this holiday season, and with everything we do, draw others in as Christ does for us.