3rd Sunday of Lent 2011

27 March 2011

 Exodus 17:3 – 7
Romans 5:1 – 2; 5 – 8
John 4:5 – 42 

One time a 12 year old girl was sent by her family, living in a semi desert area, to a well three miles away to get a bucket of water. On her way back a snake appeared almost under her feet.  She jumped away from it and sadly all the water in the bucket was lost as she fell. Because it would have been unthinkable to return home without water she had no other choice but to make her way back to the well for water and take it home. The overall journey was about 7 miles. For her family water meant life.

We live in countries where we can turn on the tap. Probably it is almost impossible for us to appreciate how people in poor countries suffer to have water just to survive.

The gospel we have just heard is about the Woman at the Well and also centres on the theme of water and life. The woman can be said to represent three oppressed groups with which Jesus and the gospel are interested: women, prostitutes and sexually immoral people generally – all kinds of outsiders. These are people regarded by many religious people as being unclean and far from God.

The woman here is a Samaritan. These Samaritans were regarded by the Jews as infidels because their religion and customs were mixed with pagan elements. The Jews and Samaritans were enemies and would have had nothing to do with each other. Once again Jesus goes beyond prejudices – religious and political boundaries and speaks to the woman who is amazed that he would do so. But the love of God knows no limits, and the God Jesus proclaims does not fit into the spaces we build for him or into the concepts through which we attempt to understand him.

Not only that but Jesus is at the mercy of the woman in the sense that he needs her help to have a drink of water. Here is an amazing reversal of roles. It is interesting to note that Jesus never worked a miracle for himself. Here he is in need of water. He is also hungry and has sent his disciples to the town to buy bread. We may rightly be amazed at how human Jesus reveals himself to us here. He is very tired as he sat down immediately by the well. He also has to be patient until someone came along to draw water, most probably a woman. It was a woman’s task to draw water, not that of a man. Does not all this give us great courage to approach Jesus in our human and spiritual needs?

This woman who had five husbands and was presently living with another is the one Jesus chooses to dialogue with, to relate to. She came alone in the hottest part of the day probably because the other women in the town rejected her because of her immoral lifestyle. Usually women in that culture came to the well in groups and in the cooler times of the day.

Jesus starts off by asking for a drink of water and she obviously thinks of the water in the well. Almost at once Jesus raises the conversation to another level. Jesus now promises her living water. Misunderstanding him she argues again on the human level. Jesus goes further and says to her ‘Everyone who drinks the water in the well will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life’.  

In this dialogue we see that it is really Jesus who is longing for something. He is thirsting to give salvation (the water welling up to eternal life) to the woman and to whomever else he encounters. He also has eternal food to offer – himself – and not the human food that the disciples come back with from the town. Later on in John’s Gospel, chapter 7, Jesus invites all by saying ‘If anyone is thirsty let them come to me. Let anyone come and drink who believes in me for from his breast shall flow fountains of living water’. Jesus is in fact here talking about the life-giving Holy Spirit.

The woman is so amazed by this offer of living water and by Jesus revealing himself as the Messiah that she hurries off. She wants to tell her townspeople about Jesus. She is so full of what has taken place. As a result they come and persuade Jesus to stay with them which he does for two days. They now believe in Jesus because of their own experience of him but it was the woman who brought them to Jesus.

Here Jesus uses someone to be a missionary about him to others whom religious people have rejected. She was immoral, had five husbands and was at that time cohabiting with another. A non-Jew as well, therefore considered an infidel. The Good News is that despite our sinfulness, failings etc God can use us if we accept his call which comes to us because of the water of baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

What is the water we seek to quench our thirst with? – the water welling up to eternal life which Jesus offers or the polluted water from the wells of pleasure that cannot deliver peace and joy, or the water of success, wealth, power, drugs, etc? The Good News is that the living water Jesus offers us is free and we have but to ask for it. It alone can satisfy our longings and deepest desires.

“Lord Jesus, thank you for the life-giving water you offer us freely. Help us to reveal you to others too”.

Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA