The readings today are
rich in water symbolism, of people being thirsty and of God quenching their
thirst in remarkable ways. I think I would proclaim the longer version of the
Gospel story; it's a "well-told-tale” and worth hearing. I don't know if this is
liturgically correct, but I would invite the congregation to be seated and
listen to the tale of the Samaritan woman. Read it slowly, and in the telling,
help them picture what is happening.
People have always needed to be guided across desert terrain by the location of wells, going from one source of water to another. When a well is found there is reason for rejoicing; something we are doing at this Eucharist, we have found a well in a parched land, our thirst is quenched and we are celebrating a thanksgiving to the Source. Those of us living in California and in Texas, who have experienced severe drought, know the significance of water – it is needed, essential for life. When it comes it brings refreshment, life itself; when it doesn't come, life withers. Because it can't be forced, manipulated, made to come on cue, water/rain has been a biblical symbol for grace, a total gift from God. In the South and in the Phillippines people have had hurricanes and floods; water is not only a symbol of life, it also destroys and is a symbol of death. Hence, we are reminded of the power of Baptism to destroy sin and death. Baptism connects us to the power of Christ who, through water, overcomes our sin. Through this Gospel passage, the preacher has a good opportunity today to preach about Baptism.
Chance Encounters: The woman's life is dramatically changed in this story, and it all starts with what appears to be a chance encounter. Some things in our lives start by an accident, a chance encounter. For example, we hear a speech that moves us; see a televison news story during these pandemic days and identify with the needs of others; a beggar approaches us and we consider the poverty in our midst; we open a book at a bookstore and it speaks to us. Consider the movie, "Dead Man Walking." Sr. Helen Prejan was casually asked to write to a man on death row and it started a process that changed her life and the lives of others.
The remarkable encounter with her salvation begins when the unremarkable happens; the Samaritan woman meets a thirsty man by a well. The story might remind us that the world is truly, "charged with the presence of God.” The wonder is that God comes in such ordinary ways, chance encounters. Someone else is at work in our lives, very close and everyday, offering us opportunities for new life, new meaning and direction. Yes, water is a symbol of grace in the Bible, and this water bubbles up around us. Our daily world abounds with wells, opportunities for an encounter with the Source of Life. We first need to know our thirst and then to notice the water when it comes. For the former, we need to look to our own lives; for the later, we'll need to beg God for sight to see the wells of water that surround us and can quench our thirst. Jesus tells us and the woman, “If only you recognized God's gifts.”
Jesus is speaking to a person who is doubly outcast: she is a woman and a Samaritan. Religious Jewish men would not speak to a woman in public, nor to a Samaritan. Her ancestors built a temple that rivaled the one in Jerusalem, it was on Mt. Gerizim. Here is a scandalous moment for Jesus, and the woman notes it (4:9); he is talking to a woman, to a Samaritan, and he is willing to drink from their well using her cup. Jesus breaks through social conventions and breaks down barriers between people. God's grace is rushing like a swollen river towards all people, pushing barriers aside.
The woman has often been trivialized in preaching, depicted as disreputable and someone who is evasive in the conversation. The Gospel doesn't say she is divorced, she might have been passed from brother to deceased brother as in the regulations of a "Levirate marriage"; maybe the last brother doesn't want to marry her. Jesus isn't concerned about her marriages anyway; so don't bring judgment into the text. How will women in the congregation react when they hear this story? Might not their sympathies be for her? Wouldn't the preacher be risking much if "he" made less of the woman's need, thirst and social condition? What is important is that the comment of Jesus about her husbands enables the woman to have an insight into Jesus' ability to see all things. Jesus is such a "seer" in John's Gospel.
She asks a legitimate question and may not be trying to duck the issue of Jesus' knowing her past. "Where is the legitimate place to worship God?" The woman is to be commended for staying in the conversation with Jesus, something we all need to do if we are to become aware of our thirst and what it is that grace is offering us. The ending of the story affirms the woman's importance: through her encounter she becomes a witness to Jesus and draws a town to him. Not a bad day's work for a preacher!
All disciples must do what the woman does; we must draw on our personal experience of him, identify what Jesus has done and share that with others who thirst "back in the town" where we live and work. Notice the readiness of the woman and the Samaritans to be converted. These are outsiders and that is where God's grace is most fruitful, among the rejected who have no
external pretense at dignity and know a good thing when they hear and see it. The squabbles of the past are impotent, a whole new thing is happening with Jesus.
In the Prayer of the Faithful today, be sure to pray for the fragile peace in Israel, the conflicts, like the one with the Samaritans, go back a long way.