Sunday, March 23, 2014
Third Sunday of Lent
28: Exodus 17:3-7
Romans 5:1-2, 5-8
John 4:5-42 or 4:5-15, 19b-26, 39a, 40-42

Today’s Gospel is a brief drama — a dialogue with a Samaritan woman and its aftermath. It is a conversation with profound theological implications that are particularly appropriate during this time when catechumens are preparing to enter the Church. In one single conversation we discover the many obstacles that stand in the way of conversion. Up until this time, Jesus has seemed reluctant to acknowledge that he is the messiah in the presence of the Jews. Yet, now he announces his identity to the Samaritan woman.

This is not the first story in the Bible about a woman’s interaction at a well. Rebecca gave Abraham’s servant a drink of water and became Isaac’s wife. Jacob met Rachel at a well. Moses defended the daughters of Reuel at a well and then one of them became his wife.

The Samaritan Woman does not have a name in John’s Gospel. We know only that she was a Samaritan and a woman, unaccustomed to speaking to men or to Jews.

Perhaps the woman saw other Jews on her way to the well and she moved aside because she long ago learned that Samaritans and Jews do not associate with each other. Finally, she arrives at the well and discovers yet another Jew sitting alone. For a moment she is frightened and wary. She is a woman alone with a strange man. She has a task. She must get water. Jesus looks at her and perhaps he smiles as he asks her for a drink of water and the conversation begins.

Jesus is a wonderful teacher who begins his dialogue with what the woman knows well — water. He skillfully interweaves the themes of water and faith. Our civilization has always been dependent on water. Our seeming control over this natural element has, in some respects, caused us to forget its fundamental symbolism — its sacredness. In recent years, our concerns have forced us to take a new look — to examine once more our Christian ideas about water. Today might be a good day to consider the challenges that face us as we discover the abuses that have been heaped upon our waterways in the name of progress.

The people of Jesus’ time saw that water was granted or withheld by Yahweh in accord with the behavior of his people. If they are faithful, water comes. If they are not, there is a drought. The association between water and the salvation-event is an obvious one. It is through the water of the Red Sea that the People of God are led to freedom. Jesus is the rock from whose side water gushes. He is the living water that satisfies eternally. Water in the Church has particular meaning and dignity because it is integral to the celebration of baptism. When the neophyte enters the water and emerges, we remember his burial with Christ and his resurrection. It is by the water of baptism that we are freed from sin.

All this — and more — is found in this short dialogue shared with a Samaritan woman. It is not accidental that Jesus’ encounter with the woman ends with a reference to mission. We are called to live our relationship with creation in faith. Our Eucharistic celebration is praise of Christ on behalf of all creation, a creation for which we are called to care, a creation redeemed by Christ.