Imagine the Samaritan Woman walking to the well. She carries two jars for the water she needs. We know it was noon. The road was dusty and the sun was hot but making this trip at noon would make it less likely that she would meet a Jew. Perhaps she saw Jews on her way to the well and moved aside because she long ago learned that Samaritans and Jews did 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 and she hurries to fill her jars not daring to meet the eyes of the stranger sitting before her.
Jesus looks at her and perhaps he smiles as he asks her for a drink of water. She has a container; he does not. The woman is stunned. Jesus—a Jew and a man—has broken through the social wall that divides them. He does not address those walls. He ignores them. Instead, he challenges her by telling her that she should be asking him for water, more perfect water—living water.
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 those who will be baptized enter the water and emerge, we remember their burial with Christ and the 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.
The Gospel continues and we learn that Jesus tells the woman the sad story of her own life—all of it. It doesn’t surprise us that she suspects that Jesus might be the Christ and runs to town to tell others.
Today’s liturgy is uniquely directed toward the catechumens. This is the first of the three times during Lent that the Church prays the scrutinies and surely, as the catechumens hear the Gospel, they remember their own faith journey.
We learned that the Samaritans begin to believe because of the story the woman told them but the line that leaps out could come from any of the catechumens: “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.” Through family or friends or in some other way they learned about Christ and his Church and discovered over time that they wanted to learn more. In the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, they have discovered that they no longer believe because of what others tell them but because they have met Christ themselves.
During this Lenten time we travel with the catechumens and we are invited to do the same self-searching. Today we recall that ultimately, our faith is within ourselves.