We continue our reflection on the Sunday gospels this Lent with the narrative of Jesus and the woman at the well.
We have much to learn from the Samaritan woman who meets Jesus at Jacob’s well, and while her story may sound simple and a bit confusing on our first read, we will find that spending time with her will teach us much about how to be thirsty, and how to be filled with the goodness of the Lord. How to be thirsty? The woman’s thirst for truth and for life that is beyond the physical, ordinary life we all experience is inspiring. We have much to learn from her about spiritual thirst, and about Christ, who is the wellspring, the water of life.
Jesus engages the woman in conversation, and ultimately in conversion, in spite of cultural norms to the contrary. She is a Samaritan, and a woman, and is at the well in the heat of the day, away from the other women who would have drawn their water in the cooler morning hours. Samaritans and Jews kept their distance from one another; Jewish men did not speak to women outside of their family circles; and this woman certainly must have had a reason for avoiding the conversations of other women by drawing water in the heat of the day. But Jesus seeks the woman out. He could have waited silently while she acquired her water, or he could have simply ignored her presence. God often seeks us out, however. We have to be willing to recognize God’s presence and to respond, even when we don’t understand.
Have you ever felt yourself being sought out by God? Do you ever wonder if God is waiting for you to approach, even timidly? How do you respond to such promptings?
I am impressed with the woman’s openness to what Jesus has to offer. Her interactions with Jesus unfold, and each time he says something perplexing, we find the woman responding. She doesn’t go away confused, although she might have been tempted to do so more than once. Instead, she allows herself to be engaged by the Lord, and through her openness to Christ, her life is changed forever.
The woman acknowledges her thirst. Although her first words to Jesus are filled with mocking, she lets him see that she longs for something more than the details of her temporal life. The water Jesus offers is far beyond anything the woman could fathom, and we are given the privilege of observing her as she is filled with the wisdom, strength and truth that come from a growing relationship with Christ.
We don’t know what the circumstances of her life have been, except that Jesus convinces her to trust him by disclosing that he knows she has been married many times. Scripture scholars tell us that this may be a reference to idols the Samaritans worshiped, that the conversation is to be read on more than one level. There are many idols in our lives, aren’t there? The idol of possessions, or of the constant need for activity; the idol of individualism, or of the desire for power or control. Our idols are no less harmful to us than were those of Jesus’ time, and his patient and clear response to this woman is encouraging for us. Trust Christ and the need for idols begins to disappear.
What spiritual thirsts do you discern in your heart? What idols would time with the Lord surface in your life?
A young adult friend is in his last semester of college, and is preparing to make the transition to graduate studies or to his first post-college position. His emails are filled with the wonder and excitement of new beginnings, and of the stress of not knowing what the future holds. He explained recently that it isn’t simply the uncertainty of the practical aspects of life, like what he will do, where he will live, will he have steady income, and so on, that wear on him; his real desire is to embrace a life that keeps God at the center, and he knows that decisions he makes in the next few months will have many consequences spiritually as well as materially. “It is relatively easy to keep my priorities straight right now,” he said. “The bells ring (he is on a Catholic college campus) and I have a reminder of God’s presence. Not only do I remember to set aside time for prayer, but there is prayer in the community four times a day, plus Mass, religious art, heavenly music, and people with whom I can share my spiritual journey. There are always opportunities for mission and for service; all I have to do is sign up or show up. How will I create a structure for my life away from here that will keep God first in all things?”
This young man identified important aspects of spiritual thirst, and the openness for Christ to quench the thirst in profound ways: prayer, community, time for reflection, service to others, and a heart that desires a growing relationship with God.
How do you provide an open space in your heart and your life so that Christ can dwell there with you?
The Samaritan woman who encounters Jesus at the well is willing to hear the truth, even though it is painful, and her conversation with Christ isn’t a one-way experience, either. She voices painful confusion, and Christ’s revelatory response is amazing enough that the woman leaves her earlier purpose behind. Her water jugs sit aside while she goes into the town to share her discovery with others: “Come, see…”
Sometimes we find ourselves feeling stuck in life. We may be trying to follow Christ, but we know there is more, and yet… we go through the days and weeks caught up in the routines of work, family, and community, until something drastic happens that calls us to reflect upon life and its meaning. Sometimes that “stuckness” is the result of not wanting to hear the truth about our lives, for if we really did listen to God’s voice, we fear we would be torn apart. The woman gives us a wonderful image of one who allows God’s truth to sink deeply into her being, and finds peace and life worth sharing rather than the devastation we might expect in such circumstances. We realize in her story the truth in the phrase, “the truth will set you free,” and we begin to contemplate what impact a real encounter with Jesus might have on our lives.
What do you most desire from Christ? How will you find a way to allow Christ to provide what you need?
Can you imagine the surprise of the townspeople when this woman, one who must have been on the fringes of their lives (remember, she had been drawing water at noon, avoiding the others in the daily comings and goings of the village) suddenly approaches them with astounding news? What if she is right? Has she lost her senses, or has she experienced something, someone, compelling? This woman’s friendship with Christ calls her out beyond herself. She has fallen in love with God, and she cannot help but share that love with others, regardless of their perplexed looks and sideways glances.
In her sharing, a wonderful cycle is begun. Her invitation to others results in their invitation to Jesus to stay with them; their invitation results in new relationships with Christ. The overflowing stream of living water, love beyond all measure, washes and sustains and quenches the most passionate thirst.
Have you fallen in love with God? How do you share your love for God with others? How is your passionate thirst quenched by the living water who is Christ?