Third Sunday of Lent – Year A Readings
1 st reading: Ex 17:3-7
2 nd reading: Rom 5: 1-2; 5-8
Gospel: John 4: 5-42
Jesus and his disciples are on their way to Galilee from Judea, needing to pass through the land of the Samaritans. The Jews and the Samaritans were enemies of one another, but the place where they meet the Samaritan woman has a significant history for both peoples: it is the place of Jacob’s well, always referred to as Shechem in the Old Testament. It is the place where God spoke to Abraham (or Abram as he was then) when he first entered the land of Canaan: “To your descendents I will give this land”. He erected an altar there. It is the place where Jacob first settled on his return to Canaan having fled from his brother Esau, after he stole Esau’s birth right. Jacob too built an altar there. It is the same place that Jacob gave to his son Joseph just before Jacob died, though Joseph himself never took it up as he died in Egypt. But we can understand the importance of the place for both Jews and Samaritans in their common ancestry, though the land was now in Samaria. Historically, we can say that it was a place of new beginnings for the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
So too we can see that Jesus is planting the seeds of new beginnings, in this place. This is the place too where Manasseh had built a temple to rival the one at Jerusalem on the mountain of Gerizim. It is a very sensitive place and Jesus’ approach to the woman is highly sensitive indeed. He is genuinely weary from walking and is thirsty. He sits beside the well to rest while his disciples had gone to buy food. A woman approaches to draw water from the well. Jesus asks her for a drink. She clearly recognizes him as a Jew and given the enmity between the two peoples she is genuinely surprised. But Jesus now begins to dialogue with her on a deeper spiritual level, which she does not immediately recognize. The conversation dwells on two levels, the natural and the supernatural, on natural water and on an image of the supernatural life which Jesus calls ‘living water’. She does not recognize the distinction. “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink’, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” What is this living water? She appeals to her authority: Jacob the founder of this well, now in Samaria, her land. But Jesus appeals to His own authority. Is this Jew really greater than Jacob, our common ancestor, to whom God spoke and gave him this land? But this water is merely natural water and she knows she will have to draw continually from it to quench the natural thirst of herself, and her flocks. Jesus offers her water, which will quench her thirst forever, will become a spring in her welling up to eternal life. She thinks this very convenient, if it could be true, because then she would not have to come again – like some kind of ‘magic’ water. Her heart is not yet fully opened to the truth and she remains purely in her natural thinking. But she is receptive to Jesus. He goes deeper to enlighten her further. When he tells her about her 5 ‘husbands’ she does not ask ‘who told you so?’, but she perceives him to be a prophet. He has entered her heart. She is now on the way to receiving the full revelation of Himself, when he tells her He is in fact the Messiah, the one whom both peoples are expecting and who will “Show us all things” as she understood.
In the Book of Revelation, the Lord spoke thus to the Laodicans: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him and he with me.” Today too, as always, Jesus thirsts. He thirsts not for natural water, but for souls to whom he wishes once again, and indeed always, to give living water, water that will give life, eternal life, Divine Life. Jesus comes, knocking on the door of our hearts, with His mercy, with His desire to forgive, bringing the fullness of His Gifts of the Holy Spirit. We must never doubt His mercy, no matter how far we may have strayed from Him. Why refuse Him? The woman at the well did not know who Jesus was, but she never refused Him. And so he could enter through the door of her heart. We know who He is and yet so often souls refuse Him. We refuse Him by choosing our will instead of God’s will for our lives. We want to live ‘naturally’. He wants to lift us up to a supernatural level. He wants to heal us, today, now. He gives us His living water today through His sacraments, His Divine Presence among us. His thirst today is to show us His mercy and forgiveness. Do we trust Him and open the door of our hearts so He can enter fully in? Or is the door half-shut? Trust is the key! The unity He wanted to show to the Samaritan woman and to her family is the same unity He wants to give today: This unity is Himself residing in us. But He will only build this unity for us if we trust Him to enter fully through the door of our hearts. He is not a stranger but we can often treat Him as such. We learn this trust especially from the lives of Mary and all the saints. His mercy is on those who fear Him, that is on those who trust Him. The proud of heart are scattered, but those of humble hearts He exalts. As St Augustine wrote so beautifully “For behold Thou wert within me, and I outside; and I sought Thee outside … Thou wert with me and I was not with Thee”. Such is the paradox of life. We need to be in a continual state of conversion, of turning away from sin, of turning inwards to meet Him by opening the door of our hearts to Him. Otherwise we fail to be in union with Him and consequently too we fail to be in communion with one another. “He who has the Son has life”, wrote St John. “He who has not the Son of God has not life.” Forming an inner harmony, between our inner lives and Christ enables us to receive abundantly from Him the gift of God, of life, of living water rushing up to eternal life.
Dom Brian Gerard Kelly