Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Lent, Year A 2014
Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Lent, Year A 2013-14
Our Gospel today was much longer than usual, but there are many important things going on in this story. I found it fascinating to read about why the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman is considered to be one of the most important and interesting passages in the Gospels.
First of all, some background. Jesus was crossing through Samaria – a fact registered at the beginning that probably doesn’t mean much to us. But most Jews of the period would not have gone through Samaria, they would have gone around it. Samaritans and Jews, though they believed in the same God, had never forgiven each other for earlier issues, especially the Samaritan intermarriages with pagans. There were also some theological differences, one main one being that Jews believed God was in the Temple in Jerusalem while Samaritans believed God was on Mount Horeb where they worshipped. In any case, Jesus goes through Samaria, making that the first rebellious thing he does. He and the disciples are tired, so when they reach a famous watering place called Jacob’s well, he sends the disciples into the city for food, but they seem to have taken with them their supplies – which meant that Jesus did not have a container to put any water in. It was noon and it was hot and Jesus became thirsty.
Now the woman who comes to the well is not traditional either. Normally women would come to the well for water early or late in the day to avoid the heat of the noon sun. No woman in her right mind would come at noon. Women would always be accompanied. This women came at noon and alone. Unusual! It might have meant that she was an outcast and the other women might not have anything to do with her, for as we see later she was very promiscuous.
In no way would a man sit with a woman, alone, in Hebrew society. It just was not done. But Jesus asks the woman for water. Even if he could have talked to her, he certainly would not, for purity reasons, drink out of her vessel. But he asks her for water.
She is rather taken aback by this, and does ask him if he knows what he is doing. The fact that she would flaunt tradition and talk to him is important also, and says something about her character. Was she looking for someone to pick up at the well, that she would engage in any conversation?
After this we get a dialogue between the two. If we take a moment to look at the approach of Jesus to this woman, we might note some interesting facts. Jesus does not start the conversation by trying to convert the woman, but he expresses that he needs something from her. He does not approach her in a way that makes him seem better than she is, but on the contrary, he comes across as needier than she is. She can help him.
It is only after he shows that need that he begins to talk to her and explain his mission to her. Perhaps we can only build a relationship by needing each other, and so that is what Jesus does with this woman. He expresses his need of her and then explains what he can do to help her needs. We might think of this applying to today when we do things for people, even with very good motive, but do it in a way that shows we are superior and strong, and they are inferior and weak. What Jesus, in essence has done is to build up the woman and make her feel worthy to be a receiver herself.
Now let us look at the dialogue. The woman begins by asking Jesus what is going on that a Jewish man is taking to a woman, and even more, a woman from a hated people. Subtly she is asking if he wants anything more from her. Is this a come on, in other words?
Jesus’ reply is that if you only knew the gift from God I could be to you, that you would only ask and I could give you water – living water. She is probably thinking that “living water” means spring water, and so she replies that Jesus has nothing from which to gather any water, and she asks if he is thinking he is offering better water than Jacob in her Scriptures who drank from this well originally. She has not yet seen that it is the person of Jesus that is more important than Jacob and the Scriptures themselves.
Jesus then begins to expand on the “living waters” and in doing so expresses to her that what he offers is different than water that can quench but will leave the person to become thirsty again. He does not engage her political question about Jews and Samaritans and who has the right to claim ancestry to the Scriptures. He tells her that whoever drinks the water he will give will never thirst and will have eternal life.
Jesus is still not reaching the woman except in a superficial way. She sees what he says as magic and wants to know where she can get some of this living water that can stop me from dying, from having to work so hard.
Then, again without really replying to what she says, he asks her to be a witness to what he says, and do three things – go, tell someone and come back. Is Jesus then asking her to be an evangelist – isn’t that precisely what he asked his apostles to do? The fact that she is a woman and foreign seems to make no difference to Jesus. Is she to become the “spring of water” he has just described, by flowing to others?
Her reply to this is not quite truthful – she says she has no husband to tell. Jesus lets her know that he knows the truth about her and that she has had many partners, and is not presently married to the one she is living with.
Now it is her turn to change the topic. It must have shocked her that Jesus could know this and she doesn’t want to discuss it. She says he must be a prophet to know that, so then she switches to another difference between Jews and Samaritans – wanting to know which is the correct place to worship, but in a sense she has played right into Jesus hands. Traditionally, once a prophet has exposed a sin, the sinner must then go to God and ask forgiveness. In Jewish tradition you would go to the Temple in Jerusalem. In Samartitan tradition you would go to the holy mountain. Inadvertently, the Samaritan woman has played right into that question of what she should do about her life, and how she asks forgiveness and starts afresh.
Jesus does answer her question, however. In a very theologically important conversation, Jesus says that the source of salvation is the Jews, but that where you believe God is, is no longer of any relevance. God is spirit and as such is everywhere and anywhere.
The woman says she hopes the messiah will come soon in order to clarify what Jesus has said and to give everyone the truth. Jesus’ reply is “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” This is the first of the nine “I am” sayings in St. John’s Gospel. And it is amazing that it is being said to a woman, and a non-Jewish woman at that. And how intriguing that the first person that Jesus has told outright that he is the Messiah is a woman, a foreign woman, a sinful foreign woman!
The woman obviously believed Jesus at this point, but now the disciples return. You can imagine their cultural surprise when they see Jesus talking to this Samaritan woman, but they knew better than to say anything to Jesus. The woman senses perhaps that the newcomers are hostile to her, so she gets up and does what Jesus has asked her to do – go, tell, and return. We know she will return because she has left her water jar. And she will do more than Jesus asked, not telling just the non-existent husband, but by telling the whole community. One homilist I read noted that in leaving the water and water jar behind, she was going as the living water herself to become a stream for others. How wonderful that Jesus has used a woman for this important moment – and how it would have raised the status of women in that time.
As a witness, she approaches the Samaritans first with something to get their attention, given that she probably has a reputation. ‘This man told me all my wrongdoings – all of them! ‘ Then she doesn’t say that she has seen the Christ or that he said he was the Messiah, but that if they come to hear him they might discover he is the Messiah. She does this by simply asking the question: He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” It puts the question into their minds as they go to hear Jesus.
Next we get a short scene that perhaps balances the idea of living water with that other staple of food. The Apostles ask Jesus to eat because he must be hungry. The living food that Jesus just had was his encounter with the woman. It is a different kind of nourishment. Jesus has sowed it and now will watch it grow and come to fruition because the Samaritans return with the woman and ask him to stay two days. In those two days, Jesus brought the whole village living water, and they believed that he was the Messiah, and that he had truly come to save the world.
So, in summary, there are many points made in this story. First, is that Jesus is made manifest as Savior of the world, not just Savior to the Jews. Secondly, woman’s status in this period has been raised by his discussions with her and his sending of her as a “missionary”. Thirdly, we know that God is not found in a place – but that he is spirit and everywhere. Fourthly, the person Jesus replaces Scriptures as a covenant. And lastly we have a vision of the model of Christianity – we are like springs of water that go out and nourish others, giving them vision of the kingdom and eternal life.
The reading from Exodus today talked about Moses striking a rock and water coming out from it. That water quenched the physical thirst of the Jewish people. Christ has come to quench our spiritual thirst. As Paul said today – we are sinners, just like the Samaritan woman, but we can drink the living water and “boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.”
This week as we continue our Lenten journey of prayer, reflection and fasting from things that distract us from God, let us know that, like the Samaritan woman we are being called to go, tell and return as well. It reminds of us of our obligation to share our faith, evangelize, share its importance in our lives, not put our light under a bushel. And to come back to God ourselves.
This is the challenge of spreading he Good News that I leave you with this week as we journey on towards our remembrance of that holy week when Jesus gave himself up for our sakes. May we spread the Good News of today!
Bishop Ron Stephens, Auxiliary Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese Of the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)
Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA
[You can purchase a complete Cycle A of Bishop Ron’s homilies, 75 of them, from amazon.com for $9.99 - Teaching the Church Year”]