A reflection on the Third Sunday of Lent
Over the next three weeks those adults and young people preparing for Baptism have a special ceremony each Sunday called the Scrutinies. This goes back to the early church where the candidates for Baptism were ‘examined’ about how serious they were about wanting to be baptised.
And so the Church picked readings for the Mass that relate to this. The story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well is well-known to many of us. In the time of Jesus there were roughly three areas in what we know today as the Holy Land – Judea, Galilee and, in between, Samaria. Samaria was once called the Northern Kingdom but about 7 centuries before Jesus was born it was invaded by the Assyrians who brought in people to settle the land. Over the centuries the Jews there intermarried with the settlers and by the time of Jesus the Jews in Judea and Samaria looked on the Samaritans as ‘tainted’ and no longer proper Jews.
A well was the main place where people met each day. A great place for gossiping among villagers and also a place to meet strangers who were passing by. At the same time many villages had water cisterns – places where water was stored for the village to use during the dry season – but often this water was smelly and rancid. So to have a well where fresh water flowed was a great blessing.
When Jesus asked the woman for a drink of fresh water – by the way, yesterday was World Water Day – it prompted all sorts of other questions between them. In Jesus’ time ‘living water’ symbolised all that was good – love, security, happiness and, above all, eternal life.
This woman had a fairly eventful life. Five husbands and a live-in partner. St John is ‘making this up’ because he wants this woman to symbolise the people of Samaria and the chequered life they’d had for the past 700 years when the Northern Kingdom split for Judea.
So what’s the lesson for us – we’re already baptised so it doesn’t apply to us today. Or does it?
Of course it does. Just as the choice of this Gospel is asking the catechumens to confront their own deepest desires: what are they looking for in baptism? What are the things in life for which they are truly thirsting? What kind of living water can quench that type of thirst?
The questions are also relevant for each of us…. what do you really want from life? What gives meaning to your life?