Mar. 14, 2020

THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT, 2020

CHRIST QUENCHES OUR THIRST

Readings: 1st- Ex. 17:3-7; Rom. 5:1-2, 5-8; Gospel- Jn. 4:5-42

One psalm that has remained in my mind since seminary days is Psalm 42 which says, “Like the deer that years for running streams so my soul is yearning for you my God.” Our souls thirst for Jesus, the “Living Water. “And the responsorial psalm reminds us, “If today you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” How many times do we hear God’s voice? What happens when we hear his voice? Could He be speaking to us now? Aren’t we like the Israelites at Massah and Meribah, questioning and lamenting, “Is the Lord in our midst or not?” 

Describing the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, the author of John’s gospel remarks, “Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well. It was about noon” (4:6). This sets the stage for an encounter that will lead to a transformation of the Samaritan woman. Importantly, we need to recognize that the gospel of John is filled with imagery. John uses the symbol of water to designate cleansing, purification, sanctification, and salvation which come from Christ. In Chapter 1 of John, we see the use of water in John’s baptism and his reference to Christ as filled with the Spirit. In chapter 2, water features in the first miracle of Jesus where he changes water into wine. In the third chapter, Jesus encounters Nicodemus and says to him, “no one can enter into the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.” Chapter 4 introduces this long narrative of today’s reading which is centered around Jacob’s well; the Samaritan woman is invited to the Living Water. In chapter 5, Jesus encounters the man who had been sick for thirty-eight years at the pool of Bethesda. When asked about his intention to be well, the man responded, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up” (Jn. 5:7-8). Jesus’ healed him. In chapter 6, the disciples encounter Jesus walking on the water. Chapter 7 describes Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles. Similar to the encounter with the Samaritan woman, the Jews say about Jesus, “Could the authorities have realized that he is the messiah?” Jesus exclaimed, “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him” (Jn. 7:37-38). These passages will help us to put today’s story of Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman in a proper perspective. John’s use of the water metaphor is a constant theme in his gospel.   

One of the commentators of John’s gospel, Hugh O’Donnel, in an essay on John 7:37-39 writes, “The water well narrative of Chapter 4, where “living water” is first mentioned, echoes three similar encounters at a well in Hebrew Scripture; Isaac’s wife was found at the well of Nahor (Gen. 24:10-16, 42-67), Jacob met his wife Rachel at a well (Gen. 29:1-30) and Moses received Zipporah as a wife after saving seven of Reuel’s daughters at a well in Midian (Exod. 2:15-21). It is not a coincidence that the three bridegrooms, all famous Jewish prophets, are being linked to Jesus who is offering the Samaritan woman living water. The author of John tells us Jesus is not only greater than the prophet Jacob and Moses, he is the Messiah, the One called Christ (4:26). Jesus is now connected to the bridegroom of Samaria, the true bridegroom of Cana (2:9), and the new bridegroom of Israel that John the Baptist talked about (3:27-30).” The Samaritan woman who went to the well in the hot afternoon experienced the Living Water. For her and for the Samaritans, Jacob’s well was special. The woman never imagined that she was going to meet Jesus. She never thought that would be an encounter that would transform her life and those of her people. 

So, why did Jesus show up at the well? John noted that Jesus “had to pass through Samaria” (4:4) irrespective of the long-standing feud between Jews and Samaritans. Geographically too, Jews could cross the Jordan to avoid getting into the Samaritan territory. Yet Jesus went into this town, then stopped at Jacob’s well of all places. Finally, he encountered the Samaritan woman who came to fetch water. We must recognize that Jesus never did anything by accident since He was God. Jesus crossed many boundaries in this passage to quench the thirst of this woman (having lived with five husbands already) and to bring the Living Water to the Samaritans. Through encountering the woman, the Samaritan people are drawn to Jesus to receive both individual and collective healing. For that reason, Jesus explained to her, “the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshippers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him” (Jn. 4:23). The Father sought the Samaritan people to worship him. The Father seeks us out to worship him. 

See how that encounter changed the Samaritan woman’s life. She came to the well to draw water. She had a jar in her hand. All she wanted was to drink from the familiar Jacob’s well. She believed that Jews and Samaritans had nothing in common and that Samaritans worshipped on their own mountain. She had never experienced the Messiah. All this changed. Jesus moved her from the tangible, earthly reality of water drawn from Jacob’s well to unseen, heavenly realities of experiencing the gifts of God and the living water. Her conversation moved from, “How can you a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman for a drink?, to “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet.” In the end, the woman left her precious water jar and went into the town to bring her people. Despite her past, she became a channel for them, “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he be the Messiah?” 

I believe we can do two things within this crazy time of the COVID-19 corona outbreak. First, recognize that Jesus is the Living Water. We need Jesus to cleanse and sanctify us. We need a greater longing for Jesus. Only the Living Water can quench our thirst. Second, we need to direct others to Jesus like the Samaritan woman. The Israelites had their Massah and Meribah experience and wondered, “Is the Lord with us or not?” We are wondering if the Lord is still with us. Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus, we can no longer hold each other’s hands. We can no longer feel the warmth from each other’s hugs. We can no longer cherish each other’s embrace. We have almost become isolated in the midst of pains, losses and constant news of newer cases of infection and death. We can be likened to what is described in the book of Lamentations, “How deserted lies the city, once full of people! How like a widow is she, who once was great among nations. She who was a queen among the provinces has become a slave” (Lam. 1:1). But we can hold each other’s hearts. We can still cheer each other through the gospel message that we share. We can still provide the comfort of the Living Water to others, “we boast in hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:2). Let’s not despair. Let’s not give up. Let adore Jesus within our hearts and offer each other up for his love and compassion. Let us pray that the world recognizes what gift God is giving us in Christ Jesus his Son. Amen.