Third Sunday of Lent, March 27, 2011 (Exodus 17:3-7; Romans 5:1-2, 5-8; John 4:5-42) The main focus for the Third Sunday

of Lent in the “A” cycle is obviously the powerful Gospel scene from John of the encounter between Jesus and the woman at the well in Samaria. The details are vivid and credible. And like John’s entire Gospel, the details must be understood on many different levels. The dialogue between Jesus and the woman begins with a command from Jesus, literally “Give me to drink.” The woman answers, not objecting to the demand for a drink. She objects because he is a Jew and she is a Samaritan woman (in Samaritan territory) and the Gospel writer adds “Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.” When Jesus responds as he does and mentions living water (baptismal waters?) we realize that this dialogue has just changed its focus from the well and their cultural differences. The woman’s attention remains on the well at first, but she then takes him at his word to ask where “this living water will come from.” But she adds something else, by asking if he is greater than “our father Jacob?” Jesus does not say directly but implies yes and raises still another issue about “a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” She says she’d like some of that water so she’d never have to be thirsty or (and here she returns to reality) even have to keep coming to this well “to draw water.” A new item is introduced when Jesus says “call your husband.” She says “I have none.” He says “You’ve answered rightly…in fact you have had five husbands and the one you’re with now is not your husband.” From the dialogue alone we cannot say whether he says this with tenderness or in judgment, but her answer suggests that she is quite a character, and one who was probably very easy to like: “Sir (or Lord) I can see you are a prophet.” And then she changes the subject! A nice complicated religious question might get him off track so she asks about the right place to worship. The mountain she refers to is Mt.Gerizim in Samaria, where Samaritans offered sacrifice. Jews offered sacrifice in Jerusalem of course, and she was very much aware of this. When Jesus answers as he does, that the day is coming when you will worship the Father in neither place, he reflects the already historical reality that by the time John’s Gospel is written (in the 90’s AD) the Temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed so there is no more sacrifice going on there. This is probably the meaning here of “The hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth.”

The woman seemingly put off by his answer tries another issue. She actually says “I know (a) Messiah is coming, the one called Christ.” In each case she speaks about the coming Messiah without a definite article. This is important because later, when she goes off to her village, she asks “Could he be the Christ?” Here she uses the definite article, and it affirms that she has now come to believe what he had told her: “I am he.” His Galilean disciples will stay in their state of unknowing (or of unbelief) even after the resurrection. Even though Mary Magdalene will testify that she has seen the Lord, none of them will believe her testimony. It will not be until they receive the Holy Spirit, on the evening of that first day of the week, that they will come to belief, although Thomas will still not believe, until his personal encounter with the risen one on the following week. The Samaritan woman’s testimony brings her villagers to faith in Jesus as the “savior of the world.” Thus these “outsiders” become believers. Mary Magdalene’s testimony will be insufficient for Jesus’ own disciples to believe. They will require the Spirit. The disciples fail to understand him when it comes to the issue of food upon their return from their shopping trip. “Rabbi, eat” leads to him saying “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” That food is “to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work.” Finally the Samaritans come to Jesus and they “invited him to stay with them.” This verb “to stay with” plays a significant role in John’s Gospel. It occurs there forty times. It suggests permanence, both of how permanently the Father remains with the Son and how permanently the Son remains with those in his company. Here it means that the Samaritans have come to enjoy the intimacy of their relationship with Jesus. They come to faith independently of the woman’s testimony which had first led them to seek out Jesus. “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.” Participants in the RCIA should offer a word of thanks for the testimony of others who brought them to the brink of faith, as they prepare to hear for themselves and come to believe that Jesus is the savior of the world. Fr. Lawrence L. Hummer

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