3rd Sunday in Lenten time 2021
Jesus meets a broken woman
Jesus came into the world to lead us all into communion with God, to bring us new life. Jesus begins his mission not by going first to those who are rich, or even to the poor and broken of Israel. Instead, he goes to a woman of Samaria, a woman who has had many broken relationships, a woman belonging to what the Jewish people considered a heretical group. The Samaritans were a break-off-group from the traditional Jewish religion. The worshipped God on Mount Gazarim and refused to recognize the Temple of Jerusalem as the central place of worship. The recognized the word of God in the first five books of the Bible, the Torah, but they did not accept the prophets. Although they, too, were children of Abraham, there was a lot of fear and hatred between these groups. At one time, wanting to insult Jesus and to affirm that he was heretical, som Pharisees shouted at him: »You are a Samaritan, and the devil is in you« (Jn 8:48).
It is never easy to belong to a minority group that is despised and powerless. Feeling pushed down and without value can result in a form of collective despair or anger in the group. We have heard that this woman has a history of broken relationships. She has lived with five men, and the man she lives with now is not her husband. She is not only part of a despised minority, she is also rejected by her own people. She is a woman with a broken self-image who has deep feelings of guilt, of worthlessness, who feels that nobody could ever really love her. Is it because she feels rejected and mocked by her people that she comes to draw water all alone, at midday, when the sun is at its highest? Most women come to the well early in the morning, but a woman who feels rejected and ashamed will probably try to avoid meeting the other women of the village. She will come to draw water when nobody else is likely to be there.
Jesus is tired and sitting by the well. This is the only time in the gospels that we hear that Jesus is tired. He is alone; the disciples have gone to buy food in the nearby village. He is tired from the long walk in the sun of Juda. Perhaps he is also tired of being with these men who do not seem to understand him and who quarrel among themselves.
The Samaritan woman approaches to draw water. Jesus turns to her and says: »Give me to drink.« He is thirsty and begs for water. She is surprised and shocked: a Jew would never speak to a Samaritan; and a Jewish man would never speak to a woman alone! Jesus is acting in a surprising way, against all cultural norms. He is breaking down the walls of division that separate the Jews and Samaritans. He is thirsty for unity between all the children of Abraham. He yearns for people to come together.
It is very moving how Jesus meets and welcomes this fragile, broken woman. He knows the depth of her negative self-image. He does not judge or condemn her. He does not condescend or give her any moral lessons. He approaches her like a tired, thirsty beggar, asking her to do something for him. He begins to dialogue with her and creates a relationship with her. She who has lost all trust in her own goodness is trusted by Jesus. In trusting her, he uplifts her and gives her back her self-esteem.
Jesus is showing us how to approach people who are broken and wounded: not as someone from above, but humbly, from below, like a beggar. Such people who are already ashamed of themselves do not need someone who will make them feel even more ashamed, but someone who will give them hope and reveal to them that they have value, they are unique, precious and important. To accept and love broken people in that way is the surest way to help them to grow.
Jesus meets this woman at the well. In Scripture, meetings at the well have a deep significance. Water gives life. How many days can anyone live without drinking water? The symbolism is striking. Jesus came to quench our thirst for presence and acceptance, the thirst for meaning, when we feel confused. The water Jesus gives us are the waters of his light and his presence that will take away the pangs of loneliness and give new life. Water is the symbol of the Spirit, of the very gift of God that Jesus came to give us.
Jesus is revealing that if we drink from the fountain of the love and compassion of God, we become a fountain of love and compassion. If we receive the Spirit of God, we will give the Spirit of God. The life we receive is the life we give: »The water I shall give will turn into a spring inside him, welling up to eternal life.«
Jesus is truly a man for others. Knowledge, competence, things are not important in themselves; they are for relationship. The heart of relationship is not to do things for people. It is not to possess them or to use them for our satisfaction, to fill our emptiness. It is to live a communion of hearts with people. It is people who are important whatever our origin or culture. That is what Jesus is revealing through his encounter with the Samaritan woman. He is revealing that at the heart of everything – of creation, human life and his message of love – is the heart made for relationship, heart to heart, person to person, where we give to and receive from each other and help each other to be. Jesus came to give us life – eternal life, the very life of God – through a personal relationship with each one of us – as now in the sacrament. We are called to communicate this life to others.