Weekly Meditation: 19th March 2017
3rd Sunday in Lent
As we move closer to Good Friday and Easter, our readings focus more intensely on the purpose of of Jesus’ life on earth, on his interaction with individuals and on how our salvation was achieved.
The story of the Samaritan woman is a microcosm of salvation history. We see Jesus truly as a son of man - tired, thirsty and hungry (4:5-8). We meet a woman on the fringes of society, shunned by men because of her gender, shunned by her neighbours because of her life-style, shunned by the Jews because of the historical enmity between them and the Samaritans (4:7-9, 27). Coming to the well at midday, no doubt to avoid hostile reactions from others, she encounters Jesus.
Jesus breaks all the rules; to her amazement, he asks the woman for a drink (4:7-9). In graciously reaching out to her, opening the way for interaction, he makes salvation possible for her. When she responds to his words, Jesus immediately takes the conversation on to another level, speaking about living water (4:10), and in doing so he claims her full attention.
The woman speaks of her ancestry, in common with the Jews, of Jacob the father of the entire Jewish nation, and of the well which Jacob had provided and that she herself is using. She then challenges Jesus; is he claiming to be greater than 'our father Jacob'? (4:12). That is Jesus’ cue to speak of eternal life - longer-lasting and more refreshing even than the water of Jacob’s well (4:13-14). The woman responds immediately; she wants this living water of which Jesus speaks (4:15).
The image of living water that Jesus uses in his encounter with the Samaritan woman speaks volumes because water was a precious commodity in that land which had wide tracts of desert. Water had to be fetched from wells, carried carefully and used wisely.
The 'living water' is available to whoever drinks of it (4:14), butJesus challenges the woman as an individual - he tells her to call her husband, knowing that she had had five husbands and is now living with a man to whom she is not married (4:16-18). By now the woman is convinced that Jesus is 'a prophet' and she refers to the divide between the Jews and the Samaritans; Jews believed that it was at Jerusalem, far from Samaritan territory, that God must be worshipped (4:19-20). Jesus then shows her that soon earthly locations will be irrelevant in relation to worship - God is seeking those who will worship 'in spirit and in truth' (4:21-24), and as the woman begins to speak of the future Messiah, Jesus states 'I am he' (4:25-26).
This short exchange is enough to bring about the complete transformation of the woman. No longer fearing her neighbours, she hurries to tell them about the man who 'told me everything I ever did' (4:39). As a result 'many more became believers' and acknowledged Jesus as 'the Saviour of the world' (4:41-42).
Faith changes people, first by justification through faith in Christ, bringing peace between God and humans (Romans 5:1-2). Secondly, people are changed, made holy, sanctified through the action of the Holy Spirit. Christians find that they can endure suffering, persevere and hope because the Holy Spirit enables them (5:3-5). Jesus makes no further comment to the Samaritan woman about her irregular life-style, but we can be certain that the Spirit helped her to make the necessary changes to bring glory to God in her way of living.
Ultimately faith leads to salvation, reconciliation with God through the death of Jesus, 'saved through his life'(5:12). As Moses brought water out of the rock for the Israelites to drink, sustaining their lives in that parched land (Exodus 17:3-6), Jesus gives eternal life to all who respond to him.