Ex 17:3-7; Rom 5:1-2, 5-8; Jn 4:5-42
A thirst could be physical or spiritual. All over the world companies like Coca Cola and Pepsi spend millions of TV ads intended to stimulate our thirst and get us to buy their product. But most people today thirst for things of greater value. People thirst for justice, truth and love; they long for recognition, freedom and security, as in the case of the unnamed woman in today’s gospel story. Physically she is thirsty, thirsting for water, and that brings her to the well day after day. But spiritually also she is thirsty, an inner thirst which drives her from one man to another and for which she can find no satisfaction. By the time she meets Jesus she is in her sixth marriage, and yet she is able to tell Jesus “I have no husband,” indicating that she is probably already looking for the seventh.
She opens up to him and finally experiences the joy and happiness after meeting Jesus in her life. Note also that, unlike many evangelists of our time, Jesus never tries to condemn, threaten, or intimidate the woman. All he tries to do is invite (v. 7), challenge (v. 10) and affirm her (v. 17), patiently trying to enlighten her doubts in no uncertain terms (vv. 24, 26).
Why does Jesus make such a tremendous impact on the woman? Because for the first time in her life she meets a man who really understands her. In her excitement she forgets her water jar and physical thirst (and so also does Jesus) and runs back to the village inviting the villagers to come and see “a man who told me everything I have ever done” – probably the first man to know her so well without rejecting her. Before you know it the convert has become a missionary bringing others to Jesus and to the joyful experience of conversion.
I invite you to pay attention to the words of those other Samaritan villagers that the woman brings to Jesus.
They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.” (4:42)
We see that there are two stages in the believing or conversion process: a. believing because of what someone told us about Jesus, and b. believing because we have come personally to know Jesus ourselves. Lent is the period when the Church invites all her children who still believe on the strength of someone else’s witnessing to come to Jesus personally and believe, not because someone told us, but because we have known him and experienced his love personally in our own lives.
We find in today’s gospel Jesus breaking the traditional, cultural barriers. Human society organizes itself by erecting boundaries – national, ethnic, religious, and gender. Jesus shows in today’s gospel that in order to reach out to the other and create the necessary conditions for conversion, one must be prepared to challenge these man-made boundaries and break the dividing walls of prejudice. This is exactly what Jesus does to get to this woman.
According to the convention of the times, Jews were not supposed to interact with Samaritans. Walls of prejudice built on the foundations of ethnicity and religion kept them apart. Jesus broke these boundaries when he asked the woman for a drink. That was not all. It was also against the moral norms of the day for a man to engage a woman in dialogue in a public place. And yet Jesus engages this woman in the longest dialogue we have in all the four Gospels, an act which even his own disciples saw as morally questionable: Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman… (John 4:27)
Let ask ourselves what are the barriers we have in our society, in our relationship with other people and how can we break those barriers?