Lenten greetings to you all!
The Gospel of this 3rd Sunday of Lent is very familiar to most of us. This story of the “Woman at the Well” only appears in John’s Gospel. It is a beautiful story of redemption. Redemption – isn’t this what the season of Lent is all about?
Can you imagine doing something so ordinary as fetching water at a well and having it change your life forever?
Encounter with Jesus
Let’s take a look at this encounter with Jesus. It is not meant to be just a nice story, but Jesus is speaking to us through it. There is a lot of symbolism. The main character is a sinful, disreputable Samaritan woman.
She can be seen as a symbol of all of humanity......someone who would spend her life pursuing her own appetites and desires.
She is a Samaritan....already an outcast of the Jewish society. She finds herself at this well at midday.....highly unusual...because the well was a meeting place for women. Possibly everyone knew about her living arrangements – living with someone to whom she was not married.
Being alone at the well symbolically represented her own loneliness; her own questioning about what life was all about. She was looking for a life of value and meaning, yet she couldn’t break away from her past.
She was blinded by her own sinfulness. And she finds herself at the well with Jesus........a man who acknowledged her in a new way........a man who would go against the norms of Jewish law.
Encountering Jesus for the First Time
As she encountered Jesus for the first time, at this unexpected place, and listened to him and even questioned him, her hardened heart began to soften......and her deepest thirst began to surface.
In this encounter, as this Samaritan woman came face to face with the loving gaze of Jesus, she also came face to face with her own sin. She had her first real Christian experience.
Our Christian experience will often begin with a humiliating wave of self-disgust. It usually happens that the last thing a person sees is himself/herself. And it often happens that the first thing Christ does for us is to compel us to do what we have spent our life refusing to do – look at ourselves.
Christ's Power to See Into the Depths of the Human Heart
The Samaritan woman was staggered by Christ's ability to see into her inmost being. She was amazed at his intimate knowledge of the human heart, and of her heart in particular. It is his power to see into the depths of the human heart.
It is not that he sees only the evil there; or sin there. He sees also the “sleeping saint in the soul of every person”. He is like the surgeon who sees the diseased thing, but who also sees the health which will follow when the evil thing is taken away.
The Source of Our Dignity
The essence of our identity and worth, the source of our dignity, is that we are loved by God: “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father's love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.”
This whole story is about Jesus’ benevolent love for us sinners. It’s about the new life offered to all of God’s people if we but only seek to meet Christ with the openness of the Samaritan woman.
Our Deepest Longing Fulfilled
Through her encounter with Jesus, as she asked for the life-giving water, she began to experience a new life....a life that began to fulfill her deepest longing.....a life that would lead her out of her loneliness and sinfulness. She began to discover her truest identity - the sum of the Father's love. That is what Jesus came to reveal to her.
Imagine if this woman would have run away after Jesus revealed her sin. Imagine if she would have run away because of fear and embarrassment. She would have never received what Jesus offered to her......even in her sinful state. What did he offer her? His deep love and mercy! Can God’s love be more wonderful?
Running Away From God Because of Embarrassment, Shame or Guilt
How often have we run away from God because of embarrassment or shame or guilt? How often have we run from God when he showed up in some unexpected place in our lives?
In this story, he Lord was reaching past the barriers, inviting her into a relationship that would forever change her understanding about herself, offering her far more than she could ever imagine. God was there for her in this unexpected place, in this unexpected moment.
Sharing With Others
Following her encounter, she couldn’t resist sharing her new found freedom and friendship with Jesus to others. She became the voice of the benevolent lover, Jesus…
…because that is what happens when a sinful heart has been changed from drinking the living water. This ordinary sinner has learned a great lesson from Jesus and has taught it to others about the blessing that could be theirs.
This season of Lent is a time for breaking down the barriers to God’s presence in the surprising, even unimaginable corners of our life. It is a season for contemplating the tremendous love that Christ has for us sinners.....and his desire to meet us at the well.
Do you have the courage to meet him there?
Peace and joy in Christ,
Most Rev. Robert D. Gruss
Bishop of Saginaw