3rd Sunday of Lent a
When I was a boy, many years ago, I learned about my faith through the questions and answers of the catechism. “Who is God?” “God is a pure spirit, infinitely perfect.” “Where is God?” “God is everywhere.” “Why did God make you?” “God made me to know him, to love him and to serve him in this world and to be happy with him forever in the next.”
If I were to enter the Catholic Church today I would be given a copy of the Apostles’ Creed” which is a summary of our faith, and I would be asked to listen carefully to this reading from John, the meeting of Jesus with the Samaritan woman. It’s one of the great catechetical gospels we read in lent.
John’s gospel says that Jesus set out from Judea, where John the Baptist was baptizing, for his native Galilee, and he that he “had” to pass through Samaria where he met a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well.
He “had” to meet this woman. So it’s not by chance that Jesus meets her.
“It was about noon, and Jesus, tired from the journey, was sitting by the well.”
The Samaritan woman came for water. She comes alone at noon, not the usual morning or evening time, when women came in groups with their water jars.
And…she doesn’t hesitate at the sight of a man there, obviously a Jew, whom the Samaritans intensely disliked. She answers sarcastically when Jesus asks for a drink!
“What! You a Jew, ask for a drink from a Samaritan woman?” She’s a strong woman.
But Jesus, tired as he is, keeps talking to her, about thirst and the living waters God provides, and gradually, as he talks, the woman recognizes he’s speaking about more than water in the well. He’s speaking about the fulfillment of all the dreams associated with this holy place.
Jesus tells her something, however, she’d rather not hear:
“You have had five husbands, the man you are living with now is not your husband.”
She must have heard this, less as an accusation than as the truth; she doesn’t turn away.
She puts down her water jar and hurries to the town to tell her neighbors about the one she’s met. For two days Jesus stays in that town, the gospel says. The tired One who sat by Jacob’s well and talked to the woman is welcomed as a Savior.
Those entering the Catholic Church today are usually given a copy of the Apostles’ Creed, and the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman, from St. John’s gospel, is read. What should we take from this story?
The story reminds us of two important things.
First, that God gives the gift of faith. We don’t bring ourselves to faith; it’s God’s gift. And God keeps offering this gift. Through faith God keeps helping us see who we are, our place in this world, and promises us what we can’t imagine.
Secondly, it reminds us that we receive faith like the Samaritan woman. We’re people of our own time and place, with our own opinions, prejudices and experiences of life. But whoever we are, God offers us the gift of faith.
God continually engages us from our experiences, however complicated and disturbing they are.
It’s important, too, to see that Jesus, weary as he is, keeps talking to the Samaritan woman. God keeps talking to her.
Some think that our church can’t say anything meaningful to people today. It’s too old and tired, and our world is too complicated for its message. Our gospel however seems to say an old and tired church should keep talking to the world today. Like the tired Jesus, it has something important to say.
Jesus at the well is an image of our loving, patient God. He’s also an image for our church.