A Reflection on the Readings for Sunday, the Third Sunday of Lent, March 12, 2023
We find Jesus outside the normal trade routes of the time in John’s Gospel, and he is in a place that many Jewish travelers would generally avoid because it was the area inhabited by the Samaritans. Yes, there is fear present due to bigotry and hatred.
These two groups, although both Hebrew, didn’t get along due to their religious differences. The Jews looked down on the Samaritans because of their pagan practices and treated them poorly, and the Samaritans also reciprocated the same feelings toward the Jewish community.
So, it’s surprising that we hear Jesus has been left alone at Jacob’s well outside of town as his disciples go off to find food. Believe it or not, Jesus always has a reason for why he does certain little things, and this particular day is no different.
The Samaritan woman comes to draw water from the well at noon, the time of day when it is hot, but that ensures no other people from the town would be there … she is alone, but why?
Studying the history of this text and listening to interpretations, you will learn that her past is generally seen as one of promiscuity. We have heard that she had five spouses and lives unmarried with a sixth man.
Yes, she is committing a grave sin, even in the Samaritan culture. She is an outcast in the community. She is experiencing what we would call today in the church as on the periphery. She is looked at but not seen and labeled yet nameless. She remains unknown to everyone. Everyone that is … except Jesus.
We can easily forget that women of her day had little choice or control over their lives. If she is divorced, it is because the man divorced her, and she had no right to divorce as that was exclusively the man’s right.
Maybe, it was a “just” divorce, but often it was not. If she were not divorced, she would have suffered the death of five husbands… Five times left alone, nameless, faceless, and of no value because women could not own anything. Five times she has started over… Maybe some divorced her… Maybe some died. We don’t know. Either way, divorce or death, it’s an ongoing crisis, a daily tragedy for her life.
We shouldn’t be too quick to judge, though. We don’t know the details of her past; we don’t need to. Because if we look closely enough, we might see that we share in her tragedies. We, too, are people with a past, people with history; we live in crisis and tragedy, and in some ways, we all are like the Samaritan woman.
And just like the Samaritan woman, Jesus wants to initiate a conversation with each of us, and he wants to be connected to us. He is waiting by the water and saying to us, “Give Me a Drink.”
We might find it ironic that the source of life itself is asking for water. He gets our attention and goes on to say, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
The exchange that Jesus is initiating and bringing us into is in fact, the giving of faith. He wants to give this woman and us “Living Water”; this living water is a pointed reference to the Holy Spirit.
He is at the well of water; we find him at the baptismal font of water. He speaks of Living Water, and we receive the Holy Spirit in our Baptism.
For us, and those who are coming into the Church at Easter, we should be aware that in this scripture, the conversion, the reception of the Holy Spirit, comes in the context of humility, in which it should be received.
Our prayer life is modeled in the same way; it is the conversation of a sinner with the one that wants to give the gift of faith, God. God wants to give even the most unworthy person this gift if … they are humble and repentant.
We are privy to this woman’s confession to Jesus. After being asked to “Go call your husband and come back,”… she responds to Jesus, “I do not have a husband.” At this moment, she confesses to her sinfulness.
The woman is the image of humanity, us; she is an image of sin, hurt, and rejection. But she receives pardon from Jesus by simply and heartfully stating, “What you have said is true” this is a true act of humility, a true openness to the Holy Spirit.
We are taught at this moment what reconciliation is truly about. It is the moment that we petition Jesus for the well-spring, the living water of salvation, to flow forth into us. Where we die to Christ and the void where sin once was, is filled with the Holy Spirit, with love.
And just as the Samaritan woman did not first show improvement, that is, she did not stop her sinful behavior before receiving this love, Jesus approached her and gave his love unconditionally. Jesus has given us his love unconditionally even though we are sinners, he died for us, which is the greatest proof of his love for us, and his is a love we have not earned.
For the Samaritan woman, it was a true conversion, her call to faith. At this moment, she opens up to the fact that she is in the midst of Jesus; she has found the Messiah, “I am He, the one speaking with you.” Yes, her thirst is quenched, and her fear is lifted. Because in love, there is no room for fear.
And her response? What did she do with this new well-spring of never-ending water? We find she has left to go and sing the praises of Jesus. She has returned to the same town where she is an outcast and is frowned upon and even overlooked. She is fearless in her conviction to share the good news of Jesus.
In her new relationship with Christ, in her conversion, she has overcome her fear and is filled with new hope; she is filled with faith and promised salvation.
This is a lesson for us to reflect upon, a lesson of evangelism. You see, we too have shared in this well-spring of salvation; we too were called to conversion, to overcome fear, and yes, we are called to evangelize. Evangelize with abandon, in times of crisis and tragedies, even in hostile environments, like the Samaritan woman.
We are called to praise Jesus for his reconciling pardon and share our story, our conversation with those who might look at us as outcasts or those that frown upon us. We must model Jesus and ensure we are not overlooked or labeled as un-Christian, especially in harsh times, in times of chaos and crisis throughout the world, and most especially in the Church that Jesus founded.
We need to continue to be in relation with not only God, but with everyone, instilling hope and sharing our faith with each other and the world.
Author: Deacon Jeff Borski, Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Conroe, TX