March 12, 2023
(Third Sunday of Lent, A)
In those days, in their thirst for water, the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt? Ex_17:3-7
Jesus came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there. Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well. It was about noon. . . . Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” . . . Jesus said to her, “Go call your husband and come back.” The woman answered and said to him, “I do not have a husband.” Jesus answered her, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.” . . . Jesus said, “the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.” The townspeople said to the woman, “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.” Jn_4:5-42
Good morning and welcome to the Third Week of our Lenten journey.
Remember, in our first week we entered into the Desert of life along with Jesus, to learn about who WE are. And it led us to ask: What are OUR strengths and weaknesses? How do WE deal with temptation? And maybe we learned that we really ARE nothing without God; but, we also learned, that WITH Him, as St. Paul tells us, “We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us!” Phil_4:13.
And then in our Second week, we ascended the Mountain along with the disciples, to learn about who Jesus is. And there, we saw that Jesus is not really, our personal pet, whom we can chain in a doghouse or confine to a tent, BUT He’s here. He is everywhere, for EVERYONE! And We, along with Everyone else, are called to LISTEN to Him.
Today, this Third Sunday of Lent, we come to the WATER. Now, I can literally spend the rest of the day chatting about the significance of WATER, not only from the Physical, bodily standpoint, but from the Spiritual as well. From Genesis to Revelation, we are immersed in God’s Living Waters.
Unfortunately, we’re limited in time by another Mass at 9:45, so we’ll have to leave good old H2O there for now, knowing that, LIKE God, we cannot live without it! Water; and yet, today is also the First Scrutiny for the RCIA Elect. And this Scrutiny concentrates on the “Mystery of Personal Sin.”
And so, we’re torn between the topics of Water versus Fire, of Life versus Death, of Springs versus Wells, of Holiness versus Sin. And St. John masterfully addresses both topics today, in our story of the sinful, Samaritan woman at the Well.
And to even begin to understand, what, exactly, was going on in that story, we need to get a good grasp on just who, those Samaritans really were, why the Jews and the Samaritans were at such odds with one another, and how it all relates to Marriage, Faith, Baptism and Sin.
Of course, we all know, that the Samaritans were the descendants of the Israelites who were left behind in Samaria after the Assyrian invasion in 722 BC. Having exiled the majority of the most fit Israelites from their homeland, the King of Assyria then, forcibly resettled foreigners from FIVE different cities into Samaria. (2_Ki_17:6-41) These non-Jewish foreigners each brought along with them, their own native cultures, and alien gods, that the Jews would call idols.
And while the faithful Jews were suffering enslavement in distant Assyria, the Samaritan, Jewish ‘remnant’ began to follow the pagan practices of those foreigners and even intermarry with them. And worse yet, they began to worship and idolize their FIVE foreign deities, who were collectively called Baal, which was a Hebrew word that meant lord or husband. “The FIVE husbands of the Samaritans.”
Well, the animosity that formed between the faithful Jews and these unfaithful Samaritans grew so intense, that a Jewish person, in the time of Jesus, would go out of his way to avoid any possible interaction with a Samaritan. And this is why Jesus’ story of the “Good Samaritan” (Lk_10:29-37) was so repulsive to the Jewish leaders. Yet, as we see, God was not quite done with the Samaritans either, and this was exactly where Jesus was headed on His journey to Galilee.
And where does Jesus decide to take His rest, in the middle of this dry and arid landscape? At none other than – a WELL! You see the well in the story is significant, because in the history of God’s “Chosen People,” it was at a well that the future WIVES of the Patriarchs, Isaac, Jacob and Moses were all first encountered. (Gn_24:15, Gn_19:9, Ex_2:15-21) And it was also from a well that Jacob’s favorite son, Joseph, was saved from certain death. (Gn_37:18-28)
You see, Jesus didn’t just happen upon a well in Samaria, it was a special place of betrothal, and it was also a place of salvation: our betrothal as the ‘Bride of Christ’ and our salvation in His ‘Stream of Living Water.’
But, now, of course, we’re drifting back to water, so let’s put that thought on hold for just a moment, and see if we can make another connection. Now the woman of the story was certainly no saint. As a matter of fact, the very reason she was there, at the well, at noon, in the heat of the day, was to avoid the other women, and their jeers and their taunts, because like her ancient ancestors, she was a Samaritan Woman – FIVE Husbands lost.
And there she was in the midst of her misery, collecting WELL water to temporarily satisfy an unquenchable thirst for Spirit and Truth, for love and salvation. It was the Spirit and Truth that she lost in her youth, when God made all those promises of Messiahs, and happily-ever-afters, of Love and Hope, that never seemed to come to her.
Can you just sense the progression of Faith in this woman, growing throughout her conversation with Jesus! Lost in her own personal and communal sinfulness, she had absolutely no qualms debating with this Jewish Man sitting at HER well. ‘Just who did he think he was, conversing with a woman, who was a Samaritan besides.’
He was – just another Jew, and yet, His words were not brash or rude, like all those other Jewish guys! As a matter of fact, they were pretty hopeful. They were the kind of words that made her Spirit soar. And Jesus moved from being ‘just another Jew,’ to “Sir.”
And she understood exactly what He was talking about. And there was an instant Bond! And Jesus moved from – just a ‘Sir’ to “a Prophet.”
In a brief few moments, she felt all that sin, gloriously washed away in a kind of Baptism of her soul. And Jesus moved from being ‘just a Prophet’ to THE Messiah. And He was everything she ever dreamed about. God’s answer, and our hope.
You see, the story tells us that Life really IS worth continuing, even, despite all of its challenges, because we have Jesus and Jesus IS the living water, the Spirit and Truth, the purest definition of Love. And Jesus moved from being just the Messiah to “the Savior of the world.”
Towards the end of the story St. John tells us that the woman “left her water jar there at the well,” and she ran into town to tell the whole world about her encounter. She was totally converted. She was saved! St. Augustine describes that ‘left behind’ water jar, as the fallen desire of mankind. The desire that draws its pleasure from the dark wells of the world, but is never satisfied for very long.
In OUR conversion to Christ, like the Samaritan woman, we are moved to renounce that world of wells, to leave behind the desires of our earthly vessels, and to follow a new way of life. Baptized in Christ, we are no longer slaves to Sin, we are Betrothed to our Bridegroom, Jesus, living in the Spring Waters of Eternal Life, living in the Spirit and Truth of God, and nourished by the Body and Blood, the soul and divinity of our Savior, Jesus.