Third Sunday of Lent (March 19, 2017)
Jews despised Samaritans for over 700 years. The Assyrians had conquered Israel and most of the Jews of that area fled. The Assyrians moved into the territory non-Jews who intermarried with the remaining Jews. After the exile, the returning, “real” Jews saw this as a bastardized form of Judaism. They judged Samaritan women perpetually unclean and would never even speak to them, let alone touch them. Also, in the ancient, near east, women were never to be at the well unaccompanied by a male relative.
That is the setting for Jesus’ encounter. He promptly threw away the rulebook. He initiated the conversation by asking for a drink - without even having his own cup. She played the race card and reminded him of their differences. He confronted her: where is your husband? She said she had none and, understandably, tried to change the subject to . . . Liturgy, to the appropriate place for worship. We can understand she would prefer to talk about her liturgical life rather than her rather interesting sex life. He didn’t blink; you already have had five husbands, and the man you are with now is not your husband. --So much for her attempt to derail his train of thought.
Jesus saw her at the well in the heat of the day, the worst time to face the desert sun. Women ordinarily came early in the morning for the day’s water supply. This woman was almost surely shunned by the other women because of her promiscuity. Jesus recognized her strong thirst for male attention. He did not shame her for it. He greeted her by acknowledging his own, “different” thirst.
He offered her “living water” which she first misunderstood as a supply of h20 near her door. Jesus offered her faith. She gradually accepted him -- as we heard by the progressive names for him, from “sir” to “prophet,” to “messiah.”
This obscure, unnamed woman became Jesus’ first female apostle. She went back to schechem and boldly told her neighbors about Jesus and how he reacted to her, and they -- through her -- were introduced to Jesus. She did the work of an apostle!
After the people of schechem encountered Jesus, and he lived among them for 2twodays, these “despised foreigners” said: “no longer does our faith depend on your story. We have heard for ourselves, and we know that this really is “the savior of the world” -- the final and crowning title for Jesus. Isn’t it true that we got our faith like the people in the village? We believed through the word of someone else about God/Jesus: our parents, family, teachers, -- then, we later came to believe in Jesus.
Isn’t it consoling that Jesus uses imperfect people like them and the woman and you and me as his apostles to continue his evangelization? The work of RCIA is not to be construed as the work of perfect people. It is through you and me -- especially you who have more contact with folks of other or no faith -- to draw people to our faith.
In the first reading, we heard that God used a stone to provide water. In the Gospel story, Jesus, from the stone of her heart, struck living water through his compassion and gentle teaching / presence.
The only thing that can keep us away is the hardness of our hearts. God has found us. Do we soften our hearts to receive him? To listen to him? To ask his forgiveness? To grow in love with him? To carry his love to others who are not aware of him?