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“Come see a man who told me everything I have done,” says the Samaritan woman at the well in the Gospel for the Third Sunday of Lent, Year A. “Could he possibly be the Christ?”
We can each meet Jesus in the same way and discover what she did: Here is someone who puts our lives’ pieces in order, who helps us know who we are and why we were made and where we can find peace.
Without Jesus, the woman at the well had a disappointing life. So do we.
The Samaritan woman’s heart has been restlessly searching for what can fulfill her. She looked for it in human love, with five different husbands. None of them stuck, and she gave up on marriage altogether to live with a man who wasn’t her husband.
She could not find fulfillment in companionship with the women of her village, either. She is getting water at noon, in the heat of the day, not at dawn when women typically got the day’s water. She is either shunning human society or has been shunned by her community — probably a little bit of both.
She has found no help in religion, either. She reveals in her conversation with Jesus later that she knows the promises of religion — she expects a Christ — but, for her, religious practices are something her ancestors did, not something she does.
This is how our lives look without a real, living union with Christ: Human love and companionship disappoint, and even religion feels like empty promises.
At first glance, the woman at the well is as unlike Jesus Christ as she can be.
The woman is nothing like what Jesus is. Yes, she is a woman and a Samaritan at a time when men and women and Jews and Samaritans do not mix. But more to the point, she is a notorious sinner and he is the holy one of God.
However, it turns out that God loves to visit unlikely people. He can only work with people who recognize their own powerlessness — people who have been brought to a place of honesty in their life where they realize that they are nothing like God, and insignificant without him.
That is what it took for the people of Israel, in the first reading, to meet God. They could not embrace him when they were slaves in Egypt, because they were so beaten down they were grateful just to get fed by their captors. They could only embrace him after they were hungry and thirsty in the desert and had no choice but to rely on God, who sent bread from heaven and water from the rock to preserve the life he gave them to begin with as their creator.
This is the state we need to be in for God to work with us — we need to be willing to see God’s hand in every aspect of our lives.
The woman does know what she wants, however: She wants refreshment, inside and out. This is what Jesus offers her, and us.
Someone said that the biggest problem with religion is that it provides complicated answers to questions no one has. This is not true of Jesus.
First, he answers the real desire of this woman’s heart — to slake her thirst for perfect, unconditional love by offering her “living water” that gives each believer “a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The Samaritan woman had her life-changing encounter with Christ by a water well. We have ours by the baptismal font, where, as St. Paul put it in our second reading, “the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Second, rather than condemn the woman, Jesus respects her conscience, giving her the freedom to see her own faults. “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband,’” he says, “For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.” Not only does he treat us with that same respect despite our sins, he goes even further, dying on the cross for our sins. As St. Paul continues, “Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
Third, he corrects the doctrinal error of the woman while opening her up to a deeper possibility. He answers her Samaritan objections to Judaism by saying, “Salvation is from the Jews,” then adds, “the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth.” That hour has come for us, where we are “justified by faith,” the Second Reading says, and “we boast in hope of the glory of God. And hope does not disappoint.”
In Baptism, Jesus Christ has given us infinitely more than he gave the Samaritan woman. Does our response equal hers?
Look at how the woman at the well responded to Jesus Christ.
She had a real conversation with Jesus, speaking her heart to him. She was honest about her questions — “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” “Are you greater than our father Jacob?” — and she is sincere in her responses: “Sir, give me this water”; “I have no husband”; “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet.” Do we work to make our prayer a sincere conversation with Jesus, like hers?
This sincere prayer leads her to share the joy of her encounter with others. Leaving her water jar behind, she hurries to her village and tells people “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?” Does prayer still have the power to change people from a recluse to a street evangelist?
Next, she does what John the Baptist does. After pointing people to Christ, she steps back and lets them have their own encounter with him so that they can say, “we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”
Those of us who have met Jesus by the well of our baptismal font can be expected to do even more to share what we have found. Do we?
Image: Praytino, Flickr.