John 4:5-42, Third Sunday of Lent
We are so used to hearing this beautiful story that we don’t realize how shocking it actually is. So, let us use our imaginations to picture this scene. Jesus was tired after his journey. He sat down by the well, thirsty, hungry, worn out. The Well, Jacob’s Well, still exists. It is now inside a small Greek Orthodox Chapel, and an Orthodox monk lets down a bucket. It is a very deep well. But it’s worthwhile to wait until the old monk brings up the bucket. The water is very nicely chilled and tasty. I cannot forget it when I had the chance to drink from that well.
So, Jesus came to a town where everyone is a member of a heretical sect and sits down by that well. He must have been really so thirsty that he broke all social protocol and asked a Samaritan woman to give him a drink – Jewish men at that time just didn’t do that kind of thing. Jews usually don’t talk to Samaritans, much less drink out of their ritually impure vessels. To boot, men usually don’t make conversation with women. No wonder that the evangelist ends the story by telling that the disciples come back from the town and were shocked seeing Jesus talking to a woman.
But Jesus recognizes her existence and affirms her by being willing to accept a drink from her.
Who was this woman? She came to the well at noon, the hottest hour of the hot, middle-eastern day. The other women of the village would have come in the cooler hours of early morning and evening. This one was a social outcast, avoiding contact with her neighbors. Jesus notices this, seeing in her eyes the anxiety that comes from an unstable life, but he also sees a spark of sincerity – her rocky path through life had worn down any façade of self-righteousness or self-delusion. Her wounded and suffering heart provides an opportunity for grace, and our Lord, forgetting about his own suffering, seizes it, changing her life forever.
Once this Samaritan woman gets over her shock, a dialogue follows. It starts out about water, wells, Jews and Samaritans, but Jesus asks her questions that throw her off a bit and make her think. He finally asks a question that leads her to take the courage and admit her need. She’s hungry for love, and has run through quite a few partners looking for the real thing. Jesus’ soul-piercing glance tells her that his is the love she’s been looking for. The Samaritan woman was so overcome with joy at encountering Christ, so eager to spread the news, that she left behind her empty water jar, the very reason she came to the well in the first place! She returns to town to tell everyone about Jesus.
So, what did she do? Something all of us are supposed to do. To use a modern term: She evangelized, telling others who Jesus is.
“Evangelize? Evangelization? Preaching? That’s not my personality.” I have heard this more than once from good lay people. They have good reason to be hesitant. They say, “I need more education, first.” “I evangelize by example.” But the second Vatican Council and all Popes since teach that all Catholics are called to evangelize in both deed and word.
True, not everyone is a Fulton Sheen, and not everyone can manage to get a degree in theology. But the story of the Samaritan woman teaches the kind of evangelization that all of us can manage.
Did she wait till she had a master’s degree in theology? Did she sit down with people and demonstrate from Scripture why he was the Messiah? No. This Samaritan woman, who apparently had no credibility with anyone, simply told people, with joy, confidence, and conviction, what Jesus had done for her. Then she invited people to come and experience him for themselves.
That’s how a large portion of that heretical town came to believe. And that’s how a large portion of the Roman Empire came to believe. There were no prayer rallies in stadiums, no TV preachers. Christians simply listened to neighbors and co-workers with respect and love, asked questions to find out their needs, and told how Jesus had met similar needs in their lives. And then an invitation was issued to come check it out.
All of us know one or two “Samaritan women” – friends or family members that are stuck in sinful states of life, alienated from God, or who simply have never had a close relationship with Jesus Christ. On the surface, they may appear to be perfectly happy with their situation, but underneath the façade, how can they be, if they don’t have Christ’s friendship? They need a Savior as much as we do, as much as everyone does.
This week, let’s reach out to them. Let’s pray for them. Let’s give God’s grace a chance to flow into their thirsty souls and give them a taste of real peace. We won’t be alone – Christ will be with us, strengthening us. We may not have the same results as he had, at least right away, but we’ll never know unless we try. Perhaps we can only plant a seed, but with time, Christ can make it grow and blossom.