Third Sunday of Lent Exodus 17:3-7 Romans 5:1-2, 5-8 John 4:5-42
The thread of discipleship is at the heart of the New Testament and is laid out so beautifully in the Gospel stories that highlight the Good News in the Person of Jesus. One of the most poignant passages of the Scriptures is that related to Jesus and the Samaritan Woman. Palestine is an exceptionally dry country, and so it is not surprising that there are numerous references in the Scriptures to "thirst." It was a blistering, hot day that found Jesus walking through the region of Samaria. The sun was raised high in the sky, and its blazing rays beat hard upon the parched and thirsty earth. It was in this arid land where water is scarce and people's thirst beyond our capacity to comprehend, that Jesus, waiting for his disciples to return, sat by the ancient well of Jacob in the village of Sychar in the territory of Samaria. His thirst was great, but he did not have a bucket to drop into the dark 60-foot cylinder of the well. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, a simple reality with profound consequences. Jesus asked her for a drink, a declaration to her and to all ages that God's kingdom transcends all the ethnic and racial barriers that we human beings erect, the prejudices that destroy the brother/sisterhood of that which makes us truly human. Jesus shatters with His words the distinction between gender, race, color and whatever else separates and divides. This story is about an encounter, a relationship, an Epiphany. "Everyone who drinks this water (from the well) will thirst again, but if you drink from the water that I will give you, you will never be thirsty again." Jesus draws forth the Spirit welling up within the one who receives and slowly this Samaritan outcast comes to realize that this water is a metaphorical and prophetic message of eternal life.
This appears to be a magical answer to the woman's daily, backbreaking trek to the well with a six-gallon jug upon her head, but Jesus does not have as His purpose, an elimination or transformation of all difficulties. He works to transform hearts, to regenerate lives in order that He might give us more than we could ever dream on our own. She was recognized by her contemporaries to be a moral pariah, a sinner, and so she comes to this particular well, farther than her village well, at a time of day safer than the usual cool of the morning or evening. The heat of the cloudless sky is more merciful than they who taunt and glare, laugh and deride. The heart of this matter is that Jesus accepted this outcast where she was because He knew that she had a greater capacity for truth than was recognized by her contemporaries or even by herself. He harvested her soul that she might be the inspiration to have other souls harvested in return. Jesus is always looking for that element of brokenness in our character, from which our deepest yearnings emerge. "If you only knew the gift of God and Who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me to drink,' you would have asked of Him, and He would have given you living water." Had Jesus not focused on her brokenness, she would have returned home with a filled water jug that could never assuage her thirst. This woman's message, "Come and meet a man who told me everything I ever did" is a call to have us come to Jesus and find the One Who alone, knows all our sins, yet never judges. He simply forgives and forgets.
Entering then into the story of the woman at the well enables us to explore the sacredness of our own spirit, our essence, with truth and authenticity. We so often delude ourselves into believing that we are more privileged, more educated, more holy than others when in reality, we need to accept our limitations, our failings and our faults for what they are and recognize the impact they have had in the shaping of our lives. We only catch glimpses of ourselves until we are ready to face our own emptiness, our own vulnerability and our own capacity for causing pain. When we do this with honesty and forthrightness, we can then walk in Jesus' sandals and discover the real meaning of sacred and holy. It is only when the woman abandons the water jar to run and share the news that Jesus is the long-awaited one does she become the living vessel of living water. Only in allowing ourselves to be touched by the loving and compassionate energy of God, being open to amazement and blessing and transformation, will we find the Spirit of truth. It is this conversion experience; this inner radiance outwardly poured forth, that enabled the Samaritan Woman's community to recognize who it was that offered life-giving water. Like the Samaritan Woman, we have to discover that the One Who asks is really the One Who gives - Who gives us the freedom and the dignity to give in our turn. The life that God wants to share is the reflection of God's own life in us, a life that is always an outpouring, a communion that heals and elevates. The paradox is that we can only become attuned to this divine life as we let go of what we think we have to give, what we think we possess, and might, if persuaded, decide to share. In place of this careful husbanding of our resources, we are asked to be channels of the passionate outpouring of God. To deny others our life-giving water, to use our power to annihilate the fragile, is to proclaim that good things are reserved for the fortunate and denied to the vulnerable. The Samaritan left her water jar at the feet of Jesus because she realized that it is He alone Who could quench her thirst of spirit. Is this not what we all need to do? Each of us needs to lay down our water jar at the feet of Jesus and lift up our cup of need to Him.
We, in such a blessed land, have no conception of the real poverty, the spiritual and physical thirst that exists among three-fourths of the planet's inhabitants. We call their "home" the third world, a term that speaks of horrific, unbelievable realities, the true "Lazarus" focus that is so prevalent in our world. This reality highlights that one of our most profound calls is to listen to the voices of unexpected evangelizers and to cross boundaries into those spaces that are considered, because of our biases and prejudices, to be unlikely sources of God's manifestation to His people. We must frequently be reminded of His mediated Presence that is poured forth upon us in the gentleness that is manifested in the closeness of this Christ. This Samaritan was an outcast even from her own people, and yet Jesus chose her to advance the knowledge of His Messiahship. Unfortunately, we forget that there is a place where our inner thirst, our sense of restlessness and hopelessness, our ever increasing desire for more, can be substantially satisfied. We see this reality even in our present relationships whereby we ignore one another and consider the other to be less endowed than we. How many friendships have never begun because we refused to see the Christ in the persons who surround us, the persons who could color our days with their presence and their goodness? We reject them as insignificant and unimportant, and in doing so, we miss the "many splendored thing.” We must always be careful not to lose the mystery of the Divine in the ordinary humdrum realities of our daily lives, nor can we forget that each one of us is sacred because we are created in God's Image and we bear in turn, the Image that the Incarnate Christ shares with us, the life of a person created in God's Image to be an instrument of His grace.
Sister Anne Daniel Young, OP