THIRD SUN. OF LENT – “A” + RDNGS: Ex 17:3-7; Romans 5:1-2, 5-8; John 4:5-42
St John’s Gospel tells the story of a woman who, by the standards of Jewish society at that time, was a worthless outsider.
Jesus had sent his disciples off for food, and he is sitting alone at a well … known to both Jews and Samaritans as “Jacob’s well,” situated on the border between Jewish land and Samaritan land. He has no cup or vessel of any kind, so he can’t quench his thirst. He’s alone when the woman comes to draw water. Now, according to the social and religious restrictions of his Jewish community, there are three good reasons why Jesus shouldn’t begin a conversation with her – or even greet her.
First, she is a woman. When his disciples return with the food, and find Jesus talking to her, without even a chaperone nearby, they are quite surprised … but don’t say anything because of their respect for Jesus.
Secondly, she is a Samaritan. She recognizes Jesus is a Jew, perhaps by the fringe on his cloak or by his Galilean accent. As she herself points out to Jesus, Jews don’t talk to Samaritans. Samaritans, from the Jewish point of view, are self-made outcasts. Self-respecting Jews stay away from them.
And, thirdly, this particular Samaritan woman has the sort of history that makes women outcasts even in their own communities. Jesus knows her status, and lets her know that he does. She has had five husbands – and she is currently living with a man to whom she is not married.
We might expect Jesus to start preaching to her, but he doesn’t, does he? No, he asks her to help him… to give him a drink, knowing full well that Jews would never use the same vessels as Samaritans. In so doing he is pictured as treating the Jewish religious and social restrictions as simply unimportant.
So he opens the conversation with her by asking her to give him a drink. Then we hear Jesus explaining the virtues of the well, or the wells, in scripture and, comparing the diverse waters, reveals the secrets of the divine mystery. For it is said that those who drink the waters of the earthly well will still be thirsty, but in those who will have drunk the waters given by Jesus “a spring of water will well up to eternal life” (John 4:14) In another Gospel passage, there is no longer a question of springs or well, but of something more important: “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture says: ‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him” (John 7:38). And then, look how the story ends: she brings her belief in Jesus to her village, and the villagers come to Jesus because of her!
So she isn’t a worthless outsider, is she? On the contrary! She takes her place among Jesus’ disciples. She becomes one of them. The evangelization of her village is her accomplishment.
So when Jesus asked her to care for him by giving him a drink of water, he dignified her and started a process that brings her from being worthless to being the apostle to her village… from being an outsider, to becoming one of his disciples.
The remedy of love for what some consider human worthlessness is modeled for us in today’s Gospel. We will never be able to measure what our love for those who are considered “outsiders” may accomplish.
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