In the Roman ritual for the third, fourth and fifth Sundays of Lent, we read selections from the Gospel of John. These three readings speak to us about faith and tell stories of those who came to faith through an experience with Jesus. I had the privilege again this past weekend to share some homiletic reflections on the first of those readings with the good people of St. Matthew's Church in Voorheesville, New York. Because these readings show the development of faith in the principal characters they are used at any liturgy on these Sundays where adults are present who are awaiting the reception of baptism at the Easter Vigil. Let me share some thoughts from that homily.
What do we see in this story of the woman at the well? First of all, she comes to the well at the noon hour. Now where she lived it was usually quite hot at the middle of the day and most of the women of the town would come to draw water in the early morning hours when the cool of the day was still present. Yet she comes alone at noon. Perhaps it was because of the lifestyle she led which might have made her feel unwelcome among the other residents of her town. Regardless she appears at the noon hour to find a man at the well.
Jesus begins a conversation with her and in so doing throws over two very important conventions of the time. First he speaks to a Samaritan - one of "those people" with whom the Jews had very little to do. They considered the Samaritans as heretics because of the way they worshiped and because of their beliefs. Jesus, nevertheless, begins to converse with this "heretic." Second he speaks to a woman - something unheard of in his day when it was seen to be inappropriate for a man to speak alone with a woman. What we see here is the fact that for Jesus there are no barriers - no restrictions regarding with whom he will relate. He came to bring salvation to all and he would place no obstacles in the way of anyone whom he wished to reach with his message of love and redemption.
As Christian disciples of Jesus, are we as open to others? Do we place restrictions on our relationships with others because of things like race, color, language, religion or sexual orientation? If we are to be true disciples then we, too, must break down the barriers that exist between ourselves and others.
Then Jesus throws a statement at the woman from out of the blue. "Go call your husband and come back," he says to her. She goes on to tell him that she has no husband and he lets her know that he is aware of her various relationships with the men in her life. He states the facts but does not condemn her. This is the way Jesus deals with us as well. He knows our faults and failings - some small and some large - but he does not condemn us. Rather he pours out his mercy upon us and lifts us up from whatever dismal place we have found ourselves in.
We begin to see in the story the gradual coming to faith of this woman. She first wants Jesus to give her the water he promises so that she won't have to come every day to the well - a very basic request to alleviate something burdensome. After becoming aware that Jesus knows about her she proclaims that he is a prophet. Then her faith increases to the point where she can realize that he is the Messiah - the one promised to bring salvation. Finally, she leaves her water jar at the well and becomes a missionary. She brings the message back to the town where she perhaps is not the most accepted person and tells her townspeople that she has found the Messiah.
This story speaks to us about baptism. It is through the "living waters" of baptism that we are brought to faith. Sometimes I wonder if those of us who have been Catholic since our birth are at a disadvantage when it comes to appreciating our baptism unlike those catechumens - those adults preparing to receive baptism at Easter - who have grown in their faith to the point where they can make their own profession of faith in Jesus as Savior. But our baptism - whenever it has been received - is not something to be taken lightly as just something that happened to us at some point in our life. It is a call to become missionaries just as the Samaritan woman became. It is a call to evangelization - to be able to show by our lives and by our words what it means to be a disciple of Christ. I am reminded of the statement once made: If we were arrested and brought before a judge because we are Christians, would we be convicted? It is a good thing to think about during this Lenten season. Let the woman at the well, in the words of the poet Judy Ritter, speak to us:
by life giving water,
offered by a man who had no bucket.
Who knew me not, yet knew me well.
My past washed clean
in the spring that I became -
flowing, flowing through me.
Never again shall I thirst.