Reflection by Rev. Leonard N. Peterson
Do not ever doubt that we are social creatures. Even the shyest of us eventually need to interact with our fellow human beings. Talk shows on TV and Facebook online are modern examples of how and where we do so even if only virtually or secondarily. We listen, we argue, we sympathize and speculate, laugh and lambaste, and certainly render our opinions all the time.
In Jesus’ day, meeting at the town well was like meeting at the mall or the coffee shop today. However, the law stipulated that the sexes are not to mingle at the well. Nor was there much business there after the morning for the women of the town, for they had their multiple household chores. Finally, Jews and Samaritans never intermingled because religious differences between the two were strong and deep.
All of this comes into play as we moderns try to understand the unusual circumstances of the social interaction that long ago day when a Samaritan woman comes to the well, alone and at noon and runs into a greeting Jesus. His disciples had gone into town to get lunch supplies.
So the Jew speaks to the Samaritan. The man to the woman. In broad daylight. Those facts alone will stun the disciples when they return. In the meantime, Jesus asks the woman for a drink; promises living water; predicts the future style of worship that will heal the divide between them, and even addresses the woman’s marital situation, to her great surprise.
All of this convinces the woman that this Man is special. As a result, she goes and broadcasts what has happened to her fellow townspeople, and they respond not only with conversion to Jesus but also an invitation to stay with them awhile.
Why do we hear this story? And why in Lent? I think because that Samaritan woman represents all of us at times in living or not living out our baptism into Christ. A wall goes up, so to speak, between Jesus and us, built by us by our stubborn decisions to sin and be alienated from the one Person who will do us the most good.
That woman at the well was trapped by invincible ignorance, which is to say that she did not realize the futility of her life without Jesus and how much she needed “living water”. Jesus was not only at the well, but He was and is forever the well of life and truth.
In Lent, we strive to rid ourselves of vincible ignorance, that is, pretending that we don’t know what is expected of us as a Christian, especially as we interact with the wide world. Or not trying to find out more through prayer and study. We have been given the “living water” but sometimes we don’t want to drink it or we complain about the taste.
There is an old African proverb that applies here. “The sin worse than murder in the desert is to know where the water is and not to tell it.”
First Reading: Exodus 17:3-7
The people forget God’s loving protection and pick a quarrel with God through Moses about not having drinking water. Moses then obeys God’s command and strikes the rock in Horeb and water flows out.
Second Reading: Romans 5:1-2, 5-8
The peace that we experience as believers comes from Christ, who has reconciled us to God the Father. There is no such thing as misplaced hope in the Christian belief. Christ died for us when we were still sinners.
Gospel: John 4: 5-42, or 4: 5-15; 19b-26; 39a; 40-42
The fascinating story of the Samaritan woman at the well finds her engaging in a dialogue with Jesus that changes her whole life and that of her neighbors.