Gospel Reflection – 3rd Sunday of Lent – Cycle A

In everything we do as we go about our day, we think and act according to social cultural convention. It is a yardstick as we make our decisions, a kind of prism through which we filter our inner thoughts, our interactions, our relations, before acting upon them. A great deal of our social norms were dictated by religious beliefs and tradition, in which certain people only do certain things, or only engage with certain people. It is the same today, and it still represents one of the world’s most active platforms for division and hatred.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus blasts apart this social convention. He has no interest in refraining from speaking to a Samaritan woman. Even his disciples, though they dare not ask him why he is doing it, are surprised.

Jesus is the water of life, the pure grace of God. And, whilst he acts within the boundaries of our social conventions, he also acts outside of them, flowing like a river over the hard rocks of humanity, rounding and smoothing us so that we become channels of grace.

He begins by asking the woman for a drink, but she doesn’t understand why she is being addressed by him. When she questions Jesus, he replies
If you only knew what God is offering
and who it is that is saying to you:
Give me a drink,
you would have been the one to ask,
and he would have given you living water’.
Just as we are called to be Jesus in the lives of those around us, so God’s grace can also appear to us in unusual and unexpected ways. The ones we shun, oppose, judge, the ones who do not belong to our own social circle: it is from these angles that Christ comes into our lives, ever surprising us, ever closing down our judgements, our narrow boundaries, our bigotry. If only we knew, says Jesus. If only we knew what was being offered to us.

As the conversation unfolds, it becomes clear to the woman that she is known by this stranger, that he knows about her life. And then, Jesus reveals his identity as the Christ. Many of us experience little versions of this story in our own life, when we are visited by the grace of God in surprising, unexpected ways. Our Lady appearing to Bernadette by a stinking dung heap in Lourdes, rather than in a beautiful garden or a decorated cathedral, is part of this same channel of grace. If we dedicate our lives to developing a relationship with Jesus, then we must prepare to be surprised, to think outside of the straitjacket of our social and religious judgements, to be open as Christ is open.

One of the most powerful lines in this Gospel is: “If you only knew what God is offering…” It is a line to ponder on deeply. It’s starting place is that we do ‘not’ know, that we still have a long way to go. But Christ’s message today is that he comes to us anyway, despite our being far from him. He comes into our lives and sits with us, talks with us at the well, instigating the waters of grace. We, like the Samaritan woman, may feel like the last person whom Jesus would approach and speak with. But look what happened! Jesus is in fact with us, and what he is offering is eternal happiness with him.

What do we do? Do we go home and proclaim him? Do we listen with open ears? Do we become more attuned to receiving God’s grace through unexpected channels?

A reading from the Gospel according to John          (4:5-42)
A spring inside him, welling up to eternal life’

Jesus came to the Samaritan town called Sychar, near the land that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well is there and Jesus, tired by the journey, sat straight down by the well. It was about the sixth hour When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘What? You are a Jew and you ask me, a Samaritan, for a drink?’ – Jews, in fact, do not associate with Samaritans. Jesus replied:

If you only knew what God is offering
and who it is that is saying to you:
Give me a drink,
you would have been the one to ask,
and he would have given you living water’.

‘You have no bucket, sir,’ she answered ‘and the well is deep: how could you get this living water? Are you a greater man than our father Jacob who gave us this well and drank from it himself with his sons and his cattle?’ Jesus replied
‘Whoever drinks this water
will get thirsty again;
but anyone who drinks the water that I shall give
will never be thirsty again:
the water that I shall give
will turn into a spring inside him, welling up to eternal life’.

‘Sir,’ said the woman ‘give me some of that water, so that I may never get thirsty and never have to come here again to draw water.’ ‘Go and call your husband’ said Jesus to her ‘and come back here.’ The woman answered, ‘I have no husband’. He said to her, ‘You are right to say, “I have no husband”; for although you have had five, the one you have now is not your husband. You spoke the truth there.’

‘I see you are a prophet, sir’ said the woman. ‘Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, while you say that Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.’ Jesus said:
‘Believe me, woman, the hour is coming
when you will worship the Father
neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
You worship what you do not know;
we worship what we do know:
for salvation comes from the Jews.
But the hour will come – in fact it is here already –
when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth:
that is the kind of worshipper the Father wants.
God is spirit,
and those who worship
must worship in spirit and truth.’

The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah – that is, Christ – is coming; and when he comes he will tell us everything’.

‘I who am speaking to you,’ said Jesus ‘I am he.’

At this point his disciples returned, and were surprised to find him speaking to a woman, though none of them asked, ‘What do you want from her?’ or, ‘Why are you talking to her?’ The woman put down her water jar and hurried back to the town to tell the people.  ‘Come and see a man who has told me everything I ever did; I wonder if he is the Christ?’ This brought people out of the town and they started walking towards him.

Meanwhile, the disciples were urging him, ‘Rabbi, do have something to eat; but he said, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about’. So the disciples asked one another, ‘Has someone been bringing him food?’ But Jesus said:
‘My food
is to do the will of the one who sent me,
and to complete his work.
Have you not got a saying:
Four months and then the harvest?
Well, I tell you:
Look around you, look at the fields;
already they are white, ready for harvest!
Already the reaper is being paid his wages,
already he is bringing in the grain for eternal life,
and thus sower and reaper rejoice together.
For here the proverb holds good:
one sows, another reaps;
I sent you to reap
a harvest you had not worked for.
Others worked for it;
and you have come into the rewards of their trouble.’

Many Samaritans of that town had believed in him on the strength of the woman’s testimony when she said, ‘He told me all I have ever done’, so, when the Samaritans came up to him, they begged him to stay with them. He stayed for two days, and when he spoke to them many more came to believe; and they said to the woman, ‘Now we no longer believe because of what you told us; we have heard him ourselves and we know that he really is the saviour of the world’.

The Gospel of the Lord