3rd Sunday of Lent: Year – A
Ex 17:3-7; Rom 5:1-2, 5-8; John 4:5-42
A couple of Catholic young men from the North were visiting a dusty little town in the back country of West Texas. It was a hard-shell Baptist town in the Bible belt of the South: “No drinking’ and no dancing’ area”! But these two were strangers; so they asked a cowboy where they might get a drink. “In this town,” said the cowboy, “we use whiskey only for snakebite: to wash the wound as first aid.”
Then he added slyly, “If you guys are so thirsty for whiskey, there’s only one poisonous snake in this town and that is in the zoo. So you better get a ticket to the zoo, go to the snake park, get hold of a cobra through the iron bar of its cage and give it a big hug! The zoo keeper will appear immediately with whisky.”
Any storyteller would wish to have been the author of this story (the story of the Samaritan woman); it is one of the best-loved passages in the New Testament. The way in which the woman is led from incomprehension to dawning awareness at a deeper level is splendid. The setting and the imagery (well and water) hold the story together and lead the reader, along with the Samaritan woman, to that deeper level.
The woman at the well had a mighty thirst, a thirst like that of these young guys for whiskey, a thirst so big that it led her through five husbands and who knows what else. And still she was thirsty – a thirst caused by the absence of God in her life. A meeting with Jesus gave her the living waters of friendship with Jesus and the anointing of the Spirit of God which restored her dignity and changed her life.
The image in the second part is bread. These two images then – bread and water – hold the entire scene together. Bread and water are simple realities in themselves, but how essential! Hunger and thirst are able to command our full attention. Every reader of the story soon realizes that Jesus is speaking of a deeper hunger and thirst. The emptiness of the heart is an even more painful condition than physical hunger.
St. John tells us of the beautiful story of the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. The woman draws water from the well at noon. Very unusual since this is not the best for doing this. Jesus is there sitting at the well asking water from her. And the woman reminds Him of the social norms that govern the interaction between Jesus and Samaritans (or Jews and Samaritans).
Besides, Rabbis did not talk to women in public. Thus, the Samaritan woman was surprised and even hostile when Jesus who is considered by them as a Rabbi asked from her a drink. Still, this is unusual and surprising. That is why she said: “You are a Jew. How can you ask me, a Samaritan and a woman, for a drink?” But Jesus leads her to a mystery by saying: “Whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst…” (v.14). In other words, Jesus, together with His love, is the living water.
Hunger and thirst will bring even enemies together. “Samaritans came to him and they asked him to stay with them.” This is just the opposite of what one would expect; Jews were not welcome in Samaria. When religions divide and make enemies of people, we can be certain that they are not seeking God but only division and enmity. The mind is expert at distinction and division; but a heart seeking God is able to overcome division.
But what is the point of Jesus’ exchange with the woman about water? Water in the arid land was scarce. Jacob’s well was located in a strategic fork of the road between Samaria and Galilee. One can live without food for several days but not without water.
Water is an absolute necessity of life. We drink it and use it for cooking and keeping clean. Water too is a source of life and growth for all living things. The kind of water which Jesus spoke about in today’s gospel was living and running water. Fresh water from a cool running stream was always preferred to the still water one might find in a pond or well.
Living water was also a symbol for the Jew of thirst for the soul for God. The water, which Jesus spoke of, symbolized the Holy Spirit and His work of recreating us in God’s image and sustaining in us the new life which comes from God. The life, which the Holy Spirit produces in us, makes us a new creation in Jesus Christ.
All over the world companies like Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola spend millions on television ads intended to stimulate our thirst and get us to buy their product. But most people today thirst for things of greater value like justice, truth and love. They long for recognition, freedom and security, like the Samaritan woman in today’s gospel.
It is in this instance that Jesus is referring Himself as the Living Water that leads her to change herself for the better. Jesus said: “Whoever drinks the water I give him will never be thirst,” (v. 14). Since the living water is Christ Himself, we should immerse our hearts, with all the holes in them, into Him.
Let us reflect these words from St. Augustine: “…for you have made us for yourself and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” These are the interesting details of the Process of the Transformation/Conversion of the Woman. Jesus guides the woman gradually to enlightenment. Jesus talks back and forth with this woman seven times, more than with any other person in the Gospel:
First, she started by calling him “Jew” (“outsider” for Samaritans), Second, “Sir,” Third, “give me water,” Fourth, “you are right,” Fifth, “prophet,” Sixth, eventually “Messiah” and Seventh, leading the whole village to proclaim Him as, “Savior of the world.”
Food/drink in a cupboard only mocks my hunger; it has to become mine by eating/drinking. Faith too has to become mine. “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe,” said the other Samaritans to the woman, “for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.” We could become experts on the contents of the cupboard – and die of hunger and thirst.
We need to allow Jesus free entry into our personal lives. A sign that God is active in our lives is His entering in to our personal, “private” lives. Jesus wants to get personal with us, especially during this Lenten season. Jesus wants to get into our “private” lives. We have a “private” personal life which is contrary to the will of God.
Christ wishes to come into that “private” life, not to embarrass us, not to judge or condemn us, not to be unkind or malicious to us. Rather, Christ comes into our “private” personal life to free us, to change us and to offer us what we really need: living water. The living water is the Holy Spirit. The living water is the Spirit of Jesus and his love.
We human beings are composed of four parts: mind, body, emotions and spirit. When we let God’s Spirit come into us and take control of our thinking, our physical activity, our emotions and our spirit, He can bring harmony to the way we live with all four parts of our humanity. We can find this living water in the Sacraments, in prayer and in the Holy Bible. Amen.