March 22, 2019

Christ the Cornerstone

Like the Samaritan woman, Jesus offers us the gift of living water

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?’ [For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.] Jesus answered and said to her, ‘If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, “Give me a drink,” you would have asked him and he would have given you living water’ ” (Jn 4:9-10)

For the third Sunday of Lent, the Church gives us the option of using readings from Year A or Year C. Some parishes use the readings from Year A of the three-year cycle of Sunday Mass readings on the third, fourth and fifth Sundays of Lent because rituals called “scrutinies” are celebrated on these days for people to be received into the Church at the Easter Vigil. The texts of the rituals are related to the Scripture readings for Year A.

The Gospel reading for the Third Sunday of Lent in Year A (Jn 4:5–42) tells the story of Jesus’ encounter with a Samaritan woman who came to draw water from Jacob’s well. This story is remarkable for several reasons.

First, Jesus breaks multiple religious and cultural taboos by engaging in conversation with a woman from Samaria. As the woman herself says, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (Jn 4:9). To which St. John adds in parenthesis, “For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans” (Jn 4:9).

Next, Jesus offers to this stranger the most intimate insight into his identity and mission. “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water” (Jn 4:10).

St. John tells us that at first the Samaritan woman interpreted his words literally, saying, “Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the well is deep; where then can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this well and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?” (Jn 4:11-12)

Jesus responds, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn 4:13-14).

The woman’s response is immediate. “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water” (Jn 4:15).

Then Jesus engages in a frank discussion with the woman about her marital situation: As St. John tells us, Jesus said to her, “Go call your husband and come back” (Jn 4:16). The woman answered and said to him, “I do not have a husband” (Jn 4:17). Jesus answered her, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true” (Jn 4:17-18). The woman said to him, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet” (Jn 4:19).

Finally, Jesus reveals to this stranger the truth about himself: The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Anointed; when he comes, he will tell us everything” (Jn 4:25). Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking with you” (Jn 4:26).

At that moment, Jesus’ disciples returned and were amazed that he was talking with a woman. But they didn’t dare question him about it. Instead, they simply offered him something to eat, which he declined saying, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work” (Jn 4:34).

The Gospel reading concludes with St. John’s report that many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in Jesus because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me everything I have done” (Jn 4:39). The Gospel story continues: “When the Samaritans came to him, they invited him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. Many more began to believe in him because of his word, and they said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world’ ” (Jn 4:42).

The gift of living water that Jesus offered to the Samaritan woman is what each of us received at baptism. This gift has transformed us from people cut off from God and from one another, and it has made us sisters and brothers in the one family of God. No one is a stranger to us. No one is alienated from God’s love and mercy.

As Pope Francis reminds us, Christianity should not be reduced to a set of rules and regulations. At its heart, Christianity is about the personal encounter with Jesus Christ that frees us from the slavery of sin and death and unites us with God and one another.

Let’s pray that this Sunday’s Gospel will inspire us to open our minds and hearts to Jesus, to ask for his forgiveness, and to share his Good News with everyone we meet: “For we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world” (Jn 4:42). †

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