Third Sunday of Lent
Romans 5:1-2, 5-8
In Sunday’s Gospel reading (John 4:5-42), we hear the account of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. As I was reflecting on the exchange between Jesus and the woman, I began wondering why she stuck around to hear what Jesus had to say. There were so many obstacles to them having an extended conversation! First, there was the animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans. As we can infer from the conversation, the Jews and the Samaritans disagreed strongly about where one should worship God, and so Jews and Samaritans had nothing to do with each other. Then there were the conventions around Jewish men speaking to Samaritan women. The woman is shocked that Jesus would ask her for a drink of water because Jews believed that anything touched by a Samaritan woman was unclean.
And then there is the conversation itself. After Jesus speaks to her about living water, the woman says, "Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water." Jesus replies, "Go call your husband and come back." Then she says, "I do not have a husband." Then Jesus says, "You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true." I could imagine many people in a similar situation leaving angry or ashamed, but the woman doesn’t leave! In fact, she learns that Jesus is the Messiah, and what’s more, she tells the news to the people in the village!
Why does she stay? Could it be that she is thirsty for more than water from the well? Could it be that she has been searching for just the kind of thing that Jesus offers her? Yes, Jesus confronts her with the details of her life, but also offers her the "living water," the Good News of the kingdom of God in Himself!
I don’t think we can overestimate how much people are thirsting just as the Samaritan woman was thirsting. There are so many people searching for meaning, for something to believe in, and yet, at the same time, they are searching in all the wrong places. We can help others find the answer to their thirst. But we must be careful. There is a strong temptation to judge or condemn or dismiss the thirst that others have. But we can’t do that. Instead, we need to be compassionate and listen to their stories. We need to show them the love and mercy of God in Jesus Christ. We need to share with them the hope we have in Jesus; to reassure them that they can find what they are thirsting for in a relationship with Christ.
The Samaritan woman was willing to tell the whole village what she discovered about Jesus. We must be willing, too. Lent is a time when we might be confronted with our past, but at the same time we know the love Jesus has for us. May we have the same courage as the woman at the well, and may more and more people quench their thirst with the living water that comes from Christ.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P. is on staff at St. Paul of the Cross Retreat and Conference Center, Detroit, Michigan.