3rd Sunday of Lent, Cycle A

water of life

“God thirsts for us so that we may thirst for God.”  ~St Augustine

A Reading from the Holy Gospel according to John ( 4: 5-42).

What does water mean to you?  Think about a time when you have been very thirsty . . .Jesus is the one who can give us the living water that can soften our hard hearts.  How can our experience of water speak to us about the life Jesus offers us?

Look at what has come before this in John’s gospel:

*The wedding at Cana – Jesus changes the purification water into wine.  Jesus goes to Jerusalem and cleanses the Temple. Nicodemus, a faithful Jew and Pharisee, comes to Jesus at night discovering that he must be born again of water and Spirit.  John the Baptist tells followers that Jesus must become more important, and he must become less.

All of these ‘signs’ reveal to us that in Jesus a new way is open to relate to God – to a God who loves us and wishes to be one with us.

+What do you make of the setting – a well at noon, and this well is      not the local well, but one that is ½ mile away?

+Jesus is thirsty – he is human and in need.  Perhaps the human Jesus also speaks to us of God’s thirst as he begins an encounter with this woman.  For what or whom do you think the God-in-Jesus ‘thirsts’?

+This story was a very important one for early Christians – especially as they prepared people for baptism.

What does it say to you about faith and baptism?

This woman appears to be a moral outcast for she is not comfortable going to the well in her village of Sychar. She is even not comfortable going to this one except at noon, during the heat of the day when she thinks that no one else will be there. The conversation that John gives us must have been only a brief report of a much longer encounter with Jesus. But however it took place it seems that here this woman and outsider has found someone with kindness in his eyes; to this one she could open her heart. In this story we see three characteristics of Jesus:

  • his humanity
  • his warmth and compassion
  • his ability and courage to breakdown barriers.

Jesus is weary and thirsty and exhausted – yet he does not mind reaching out to this woman – and even letting this woman help him. She seems to sense his compassion and care, for she finds it easy to talk with him once she overcomes the shock that he reaches out to her. But besides being a Samaritan, this one is also a woman. Most Rabbis’ in Jesus’ day would not even talk with their own wife or daughter in public, much less a stranger and one with a notorious character. (Pharisees were often called ‘the bruised and bleeding’ ones because when they saw a woman on the street they would close their eyes which often led them to pump into walls or trip over stones!) (Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of John, vol.1, p. 147-164)

Although this is the year of Matthew, we will hear from John’s gospel for the next three weeks.  Matthew’s gospel was probably written by and for Jewish Christians who were trying to integrate their belief in Jesus with their Jewish traditions and beliefs. John’s gospel was written at the end of the first century when many Christians had faced intense persecution and were disappointed that Jesus had not returned in the Second Coming. In this faith crisis, they asked “Where is the Risen Christ?” John’s gospel tried to help them see that the Risen Christ is right in their midst – if they could but see! John uses a different type of writing from the other gospels. He wanted to encourage people to think allegorically – to see more than one level of meaning in what he is saying. So he often ‘plays’ on double meanings of words: being born again – water and thirst – light and darkness – food, bread and hunger – sight and blindness – life and death . .  .    (Share the Word, March, 1999)

The Samaritans were a people who like the Jews awaited a Messiah; they looked for a teacher rather than a ruler.  They had once been a part of the Jewish people, but now they were shunned. When they had been conquered, they had chosen to intermarry. They were seen as unclean. When after the Jewish Exile, they had offered to help the Jews rebuild the temple, they were rejected. Hatred grew on both sides. Sometimes the Samaritans had worked with those who were enemies of the Jews. During their separation from the Jews, the Samaritans had also worshipped the idols of the pagans with whom they had intermarried.  The Samaritans had five false gods (the Samaritan woman had five husbands). They even built a rival temple on Mt. Gerizim. In 128 B.C. Jews had retaliated by destroying this temple. Both Jews and Samaritans had great hostility toward each other — their hearts were hardened. In this story Jesus challenges us to overcome such hardness.    (Celebration, Feb. 2005)

Here Jesus is also ‘breaking down ’gender barriers.’ This person not only comes ‘to know Jesus’ as a prophet and the Messiah, but she goes forth – leaving behind her water jug – to invite others to come and know Jesus.  She acts like an apostle. She illustrates what we are all called to do by our baptism. She is not even deterred by the ‘shameful parts’ of her life – nor is Jesus. It seems that John’s gospel is confirming women’s roles as important ones. (The Cultural World of Jesus Cycle A, John Pilch, 56)

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