3rd Sunday of Lent – The Woman at the Well

The Woman at the Well

The highlight of the liturgical year is the renewal of our baptismal commitment to Christ at the celebration of Easter.  Today’s Gospel (John 4: 5-42), the encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well, is the first of three stories in John’s Gospel which throw light on the graces of baptism. 

This is a rare Sunday when all three Readings touch on the same subject.  The Reading from Exodus 17: 3-7 tells how the people were tormented by thirst.  The story of the Samaritan woman will reveal a variety of thirsts.  The water in the well will slake physical thirst for a period of time, but the living water that Jesus will give “will turn into a spring inside a person, welling up to eternal life”.  Saint Paul refers to this gift in the Second Reading: “The love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (Rom 5:5).  After being baptised (washed) with water, the new Christian is anointed with Chrism to express a personal friendship with Christ, his divine forgiveness, and a sharing in his priesthood.

Jesus is our friend

The story begins when Jesus, tired and thirsty, sits down beside the well.  Along comes this local Samaritan woman with her bucket to draw water.  She is surprised that this Jewish man would ask her for a drink.  The barriers of history and hatred kept the two tribes apart but friendship can transcend barriers.  Friendship begins with accepting a person, regardless of barriers.  She expresses her surprise that this Jew would ask her for a drink.  He then raises their conversation to a higher level.  “If you only knew what God was offering and who is saying to you: Give me a drink, you would have been the one to ask, and he would have given you living water.”   She is smart enough to know that he is talking about different kinds of thirst.  She wants this living water.

She must have been a very lonely woman.  The village well was the meeting place for women where they enjoyed a chat.  She came on her own, and at midday when all others stayed in the shade.  It seems that she is ostracized, and one can understand why when the details of her affairs emerge.  She has had five husbands and now has her sixth partner.  Jesus will be her Number 7, always the number of God’s presence in John’s Gospel.  At last, she has found a real friend, a forever friend, a leave me never friend.

Jesus is our Saviour

Her immoral past thirsts for cleansing water.  In Jesus she has found someone who knows her past yet accepts her.  Later in the story she will invite the people in the town who had rejected her, to come and see “a man who has told me everything I ever did; I wonder is he the Christ.”  She has found a forgiving Saviour who transcends not only social barriers but also the barriers of sin.

Jesus is our Priest

Forgiveness is wonderful, but she has another problem, about worship.  Where are people to assemble to worship and thank God?   Jews would say that it must be in the temple in Jerusalem but the Samaritans had their place on Mount Gerizim.  The original split between the Jews and the northern tribes arose from taxation demanded for the building of the temple in Jerusalem.  The northern tribes were asked to contribute more than the tribe of Juda (Jews) who had the temple at their doorstep!  On returning from exile in Babylon, the Jews who were rebuilding their temple absolutely refused the offer of help from the Samaritans.  So, where should the priests lead the people in worship?  Jerusalem or Mount Gerizim?  Jesus tells the woman that it is not a question of geography.  “God is spirit, and those who worship must worship in spirit and truth.”   True worship shares in the glory of the Father, through the Son in the unifying presence of the Holy Spirit.  Lent is a time to develop our relationship with the divine Friend, Saviour and Priest.

Prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours

A member of Alcoholics once told me, “For years I was drinking from the wrong wells.”    Then he found Jesus waiting at a well to be his friend, saviour and priest.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church takes the scene at the well to describe prayer.   “The wonder of prayer is revealed beside the well where we come seeking water: there, Christ comes to meet every human being.  It is he who first seeks us and asks us for a drink.  Jesus thirsts: his asking arises from the depths of God’s desire for us.”  Then follows a most beautiful definition of prayer. “Prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours.  God thirsts for us that we may thirst for him” (Catechism, 2560).  To me this was an eye-opener.  Prayer doesn’t start when I kneel down or make the sign of the cross.  Jesus was already sitting beside the well waiting for me.  All he asks for is an empty bucket … empty time and a bit of space in my thoughts.

Jesus invites me

My friend, be not afraid.  Here, take a seat beside me.  Trust me and relax a little.  Lend me your empty bucket and open up your heart to receive my love.  Just be yourself.  I already know your sins and failures.  Accept yourself.  I do not ask you to be anybody else.  It is you that I love.  Let me come to you to help you.  Open up your heart and discover what a wealth you have inside.  Do you know who is in your heart?  From the day of your baptism the Holy Spirit has been poured into your heart.  Your deepest thirst will be satisfied by the Holy Spirit, a fountain of living water in your baptised soul.

Come to meet me at the well every day.  Meet me in a quiet church … or your favourite chair … or in reading the bible.  All I ask for is the bucket of your emptiness that I might fill it with my Spirit of love.

Cafe Cappuccino, Prayer Space