Third Sunday of Lent, Year A: CHRIST, THE WATER OF LIFE

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By  Fr. Wilfred Sumani, SJ
 
 Readings: Exodus 17:3-7; Romans 5:1-2, 5-8; John 4:5-42
 
 On this third Sunday of Lent, Christ invites us to drink from the well of his life-giving Word.  
 Water is very important for the proper functioning of our bodies. Health experts say adults should drink at least 3.9 litres or eight glasses of water per day. Water helps our cells to function properly and removes toxics from our bodies. Dehydration kills faster than hunger. In the past, to underline the importance of food, it was said an army marches on its stomach; but the experience of the 1967 Six-Day War between Israel and the Arabs shows that an army actually marches on its water. The Israeli soldiers were able to survive the harsh desert conditions partly because they were well stocked with water.  
 The first reading from Exodus 17 narrates the difficult times of the people of Israel in the desert. They had departed from Egypt and were on their way to the Promised Land. Unfortunately, the road to the land flowing with milk and honey passed through the desert. Among the life-threatening forces in the desert was lack of water. Faced with the spectre of death, the people of Israel complained against God and against Moses: “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt? Was it just to have us die here of thirst with our children and our livestock?” In response to the people’s lament, God instructed Moses to go in front of the people, accompanied by the elders, and to strike the rock of Horeb with his stick. Water flowed from the rock and the people quenched their thirst. Then the place was named Massah and Meribah because the people of Israel had doubted the presence of the Lord in their midst. The miracle of the water from the rock was therefore a reassuring response to the people’s doubt: Yes, the Lord is always in the midst of his people; the Lord is Immanuel – God-with-us. The Lord is the Good Shepherd who leads his people beside still waters (Psalm 23:2). 
 The story of the Samaritan Woman at the Well gives a new twist to the desert experience of the people of Israel. The encounter takes place at the Well of Jacob. First, unlike in the desert where there was no water, the well is deep and has plenty of water. Generations have drunk from it. Second, while in the desert it was the people who needed water, in the gospel account it is the Immanuel (God-with-us) who asks for water. Third, in the desert the people asked for help from their own God, while in the gospel Jesus asks for water from a stranger (a Samaritan): “For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans,” John tells us. Eventually, however, all these ‘reversals’ will be reversed as the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan Woman progresses. Our God is a God of reversals! God turns things upside down in order to turn our vision the right way up! 
 The first reversal is the apparent fullness of the Well of Jacob. The woman reminds Jesus that Jacob had drunk from the well himself, together with his children and his flocks. The well was a perennial source of water. But Jesus, like a good salesperson, points out the limitations of what is already on the market in order to arouse people’s interest in the new offering: “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.” In other words, whoever drinks from the well of Jesus becomes a well himself/herself. With this statement, Jesus has actually answered her question, “Are you greater than our father Jacob?” Yes, Jesus is greater than the patriarch! Yes, before Abraham was Jesus is! Yes, there is something greater than Jonah here! The woman has a choice to make: Does she stick to the traditions of her ancestors or does she receive the new covenant? The woman makes a wise choice: “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
 The second reversal concerns the one who needs water. Jesus, the Son of God, assumes the weakness of the human condition and asks for water from the woman. But in the end, Jesus becomes the giver of the water of life to the woman. She recognizes him as the Messiah and announces him to her people. As Paul says, though Christ was rich, he became poor so that by his poverty he could make us rich (2Cor 8:9). Sometimes God walks into our lives as a poor person, asking for help from us, only to discover that our giving becomes an occasion for God’s generous gift to us. 
 In the third reversal, Jesus initially approaches the woman as a stranger. As the conversation proceeds, however, she discovers that Jesus is not a stranger at all, for he knows details about her life. So she imagines Jesus to be a prophet, but later she recognizes him as the Christ. Jesus reveals himself to her by walking with her in the garden of her own story: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew” (Jeremiah 1:5). The woman discovers that God is with her – she is in the presence of the Immanuel. Sometimes God walks into our lives as a stranger; if we are willing to engage in dialogue with others, we may discover eventually that those we considered strangers are more connected to us than we thought. We share the same dreams, aspirations, fears, anxieties and laughter. One of the most exciting reversals in the Bible is when the disciples of Emmaus discovered that the ‘stranger’ they had walked with on the road was actually Jesus, the risen Lord!  
 Today, let us humble ourselves and allow Jesus to speak to us. Let us open our hearts to let his word in. Let us not harden our hearts as at Massah in the desert! Let us open the door so Jesus can come into our lives. He comes with a stick that will turn the dry places of our lives into springs of life-giving water, the water of God’s love that “has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5, Second Reading).  He comes to listen to our story so he can reveal to us our true identity as sons and daughters of God. Let us also remember our brothers and sisters, the catechumens, who prepare themselves to receive the cleansing and vivifying water of God at baptism. Lord, give us that water, so that we may not be thirsty again. 

 

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