Cycle A : Third Sunday in Lent
Ex. 17:3-7; Rom. 5:1-2, 5-8; Jn. 4:5-42
There is no more fundamental resource than water, the basis of all life. Water had been a source conflict from the ancient past. Individuals, clans and nations fought for water. Water technologies were developed by a number of ancient civilizations, from Mesopotamia and the Indus valley to later societies such as the Mycenaeans, Minoans, Persians, and the ancient Egyptians.
When Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib had come to make war on Jerusalem, Hezekiah developed a plan to deny the Assyrians water while maintaining a water supply for the fortified city of Jerusalem. He did this by first blocking all the springs and wells around Jerusalem and then by diverting water from the Gihon Spring via a tunnel to the Pool of
Siloam inside the walls. (2 Kings 20:20)
Water is fast becoming a key issue in today’s world, too. In 1985 Egypt's then minister of state for foreign affairs; Boutros Boutros-Ghali warned that 'the next war in the middle east will be fought over water, not politics.' This chilling prediction is becoming closer to reality in recent times. Population growth coupled with wasteful water management is creating tensions between certain countries.
The average person needs approximately 2 litres of drinking water a day; however 1000 litres of water are needed to sustain a small family’s agricultural need. The Conservative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) predicts that if trends continue one in three of the world’s population will be affected by water shortage by 2025, with Africa having as many as 500 million people without access to clean water.
Today's First Reading from the Book of Exodus [Ex. 17:3-7] consists of one of the three events found in the Old Testament that speaks of people thirsting for water. The first event took place in Mirah [Ex. 15:22-7] where Moses turned bitter water into sweet water. The second event, [Ex. 17:3- 7] the one that was read today, took place at Rephidim. Being without water, Moses was commanded by God to take the elders with him and to strike the rock with the staff. Then, miraculously, water came out of the rock. The third event took place at Kadesh [Numb. 20:2-13] where once more Moses was commanded by God to assemble the congregation and to command the rock before their eyes to yield its water. As biblical history tells us, Moses did not trust in the Lord. [Numb. 20:12] Because he struck the rock twice, he was punished and not allowed to enter the Promised Land.
Today's Gospel Reading [Jn. 4:5-42] echoes the First Reading from the Book of Exodus. As we heard, Jesus promised to give us water that will become a spring of water gushing up to eternal life [Jn. 4:14].
Jesus began His mission trip from Judea to Galilee: During his trip Jesus had an encounter with an outcast sinner: When Jesus and his disciples reached the well it was a hot midday, and Jesus was weary and thirsty from traveling. Ignoring the racial barriers and traditional hostility between Samaritans and Jews, he sent his disciples to buy some food in the Samaritan town. It was at this point that a Samaritan woman came to the well to draw water. She had probably been driven away, as a moral outcast, from the common well in the town of Sychar by the other women. It was this woman whom Jesus asked for water.
The first message of this passage is that Jesus went in search of the sinners. Jesus Called Levi and ate With Sinners (Mark 2:13-17). He allowed the sinful women to anoint his feet. The history of OT, too, is the same - God’s attempt to bring back the sinners. God sent prophets to His people, and called them to repent. When people listened to his call, he rewarded them immensely. Today, too, Jesus continues his search for sinners. Jesus comes to our lives; we meet Him in our family, in the work place and in the place of worship. His message to us is the same: Turn away from evil and do good.
Secondly, we see that a divine touch leads to conversion. This Samaritan woman seemed unwanted by her own people. Since she had had five “husbands,” and was living with a sixth “lover,” she seems to have been driven from the common well of the town by the decent women. Jesus deliberately placed himself face to face with this person whom, apparently, no one else wanted. Jesus saw in this social outcast and moral wreck a person who mattered to God. The Samaritan woman must have unburdened her soul to this stranger because she had found one Jew with kindness in his eyes instead of an air of critical superiority. She was thirsting for love that would last, love that would fill her and give purpose to her life. Today, we are also entrusted with this mission- To be the messengers of God’s mercy and kindness. So that whoever comes into contact with us will experience the merciful and kind God, who offers pardon unconditionally.
Thirdly, the conversion of the woman leads to witnessing. Jesus not only talked with the woman, but He guided her progressively from ignorance to enlightenment and from misunderstanding to clearer understanding. At the end of the long heart-to-heart conversation Jesus revealed himself to her as the Messiah, which in turn led her to faith in him. When the Samaritans came to hear Jesus because of her testimony, the affirmation of faith reached its climax as they declared that Jesus was the Saviour. Her powerful personal testimony and brave witnessing stand in dramatic contrast to Nicodemus' hesitance, the crowd's demand for proof and the Pharisees' refusal to acknowledge the hand of God in the works of Jesus.
The Gospel Reading ends by telling us that the people came from the city to hear Jesus. The biblical statement that they came to see Him because of the testimony of the woman. A single, sinful, and ostracized woman was able to lead the population of a town to Jesus. So powerful was her experience. That powerful experience led to powerful witnessing. She led the crowd to Jesus and vanished again. The people stated, "It is no longer because of what (the woman) said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world." [Jn. 3:42]
We need to bear witnesses to Jesus like the Samaritan woman. Let us have the courage to share our experience of Jesus with others. Let us also have the courage of our Christian convictions to stand for truth and justice in our day-to-day life. Steve Jobs, the Co-founder, Chairman, and CEO of Apple Inc. reminds us, “Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”
1) A Samaritan woman evangelist: There is a Greek monastery at Mount Athos in which nothing female is allowed. Men can enter but not women, roosters but not hens, horses but not mares, bulls but not cows. The border is patrolled by armed guards to insure that nothing feminine passes the gates. It has been this way for more than 700 years. (Arnold Prater, The Presence, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1993).) Separate but definitely not equal. That has been the attitude of many churches through the ages. So, it's really remarkable that this particular Samaritan evangelist happens to be a woman. She would be as surprised about it as anybody. When she first met Jesus she was surprised that even he talked to her. Once converted she became an evangelist, enthusiastically introducing Jesus to her fellow villagers.
2) A very special horse: St. Thomas Aquinas told of a man who heard about a very special horse and determined to have it for his own. He traveled all over the world. He spent his entire fortune. He gave his whole life to the search for this horse. At last, just moments before he died, he realized he had been riding on that very special horse all the time. You are searching for happiness, perhaps? Look no farther. Look no farther than you own heart. Open your heart to God through His Son, Jesus Christ. He will give you the living water he promised to the woman at the well. You need never thirst again.
3) "Is there more than one way to heaven?" Around the world of religion today, there are about 2 billion Christians, 1 billion Muslims, 750 million Hindus, 334 million Buddhists, 18 million Jews, and a growing number of people who declare no religious allegiance at all. Once upon a time, religious tolerance consisted of Baptists having a worship service with Methodists or a Protestant marrying a Roman Catholic. Now a Hindu may be your next door neighbor or a Baha'i may be dating your daughter. All of us down in our hearts are trying to decide whether we love or hate Muslims. The religious marketplace has become complex. At the crossroads of faith, Christians must now consider our relationships with people of other religions. Tibetan leader, His Holiness Dalai Lama says, "All religions are essentially the same in their goal of developing a good human heart that we may become better human beings." As the conversation between Jesus and the woman at the well described in today’s gospel becomes intimate, the woman creates distance by introducing a religious debate: "Is there more than one way to heaven?" Jesus clarifies that he is the messiah – the way, truth and life.