March 23, 2014
Third Sunday of Lent, Cycle A
John 4: 5-42
In the Book of Exodus we find a scene in which the people of Israel begin to
contend with Moses and even with the Lord himself while they wandered in the
desert. The Lord nonetheless preserved them in their perilous condition, giving
them water from the rock at Meribah to quench their thirst. The Gospel too
presents a story of the Lord being in the midst of his people and not being
fully recognized, and a scene which features the striking image of water as
well. Jesus is traveling with his disciples through the desert land of Samaria,
on his way from Judea to Galilee.
We discover the Samaritan woman drawing water from a well at midday, when the
Sun would be brightest and any sensible person would be in the shade. Midday,
the time when the Sun is brightest, is symbolic of personal enlightenment in
John's Gospel: the woman is about to learn something life-changing about the
mysterious man whom she encounters at the well.
The discussion between Jesus and the Samaritan woman follows a pedagogical
track: he first gently chides her for not recognizing him for who he is, and
then he explains that the water he can give far exceeds that of the well where
they are talking: it is the living water that sustains one to eternal life.
The Church has traditionally seen this as a forecast of the saving power of the
water of baptism, which renews us and makes us members of the living Body of
When he sees that she is beginning to catch on, Jesus asks the woman to go and
call her husband; she is ashamed because she has had a series of marriages which
all failed, and she was currently living with yet another man. When Jesus
reveals that he knows all of this she recognizes in him someone truly
extraordinary, and calls him a prophet-the woman's enlightenment is reaching its
Jesus' subsequent teaching about worshipping God in Spirit and in truth brings
the woman's process of enlightenment to completion; she realizes that he is the
one whom her people were awaiting, and leaving behind the shame and
embarrassment which had previously constrained her, she runs back into her
village and reports to all who would listen that she has encountered the
Messiah. Her gradual recognition of him as the Messiah leads her to joyfully
share what she has learned and experienced with others.
A Moral Lesson
The moments in life when we are overtaken by shame are also the moments when the
revelation of God in Christ can most powerfully shine forth in our hearts. Once
received, the liberating light of divine revelation is of such a nature that one
is compelled to share it; this is why the woman at the well runs back to town to
tell all of her neighbors about Jesus. At first they believe her word, and then
they encounter him personally and the inchoate spark of their faith is brought
to completion: We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for
ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world! (John 4:42).
St. Paul has some advice for us that may knit together today's readings. If the
waters of Meribah and the Samaritan well are symbolic of the new life which God
manifested first in leading his people to freedom during the Exodus, and then in
revealing his liberating and enlightening presence in Christ, Paul urges us to
recognize the new life which is ours in faith when we acknowledge and welcome
into our hearts the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Rom 5:5). Having been
immersed in the saving waters of baptism, we too are called to worship God in
Spirit and in truth, and to share this gift of freedom and new life in Christ
with all whom we encounter.
Fr. Edward Mazich, O.S.B.