As we journey on the road to resurrection, we look back to the beginning which began in a desert, then continued up a mountain, and now we find Jesus resting along the roadside by a well. He is easy and pauses for some refreshment. He really doesn’t want much: just a few minutes to himself, to be left alone, just a refreshing drink of water.
But, no, along comes someone who wants to talk. Who needs this? It is all too familiar; just when you think you have some quiet time to yourself, someone comes along and wants another piece of you! You want to scream and wish the world would go away. So many needs to respond to, so many interruptions, so much tension. We can’t even get a few minutes to do something good like pray, reflect, nourish our relationship with God. Where is God in all of this?
Perhaps there is a clue in this past Sunday’s Gospel. What we witness is such an ordinary scene, but what lies hidden is so extraordinary. Like a popular song a number of years ago “Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places,” maybe we can paraphrase that and wonder if we are looking for God in all the wrong places! Perhaps it is precisely in the interruptions, in the unwelcome people, in the ordinary events of daily life that we come face-to-face with God. Because, it is in those situations that we are called upon to die to ourselves so that we can live for others. Isn’t that what Lent is all about? We are asked to focus on and truly live in the Paschal Mystery. We are challenged to pattern our lives on Christ’s death and resurrection. Jesus would not have been ready for Good Friday if he had not —day in and day out— died to Himself in small ways.
Which brings me to my next point: Sunday’s Gospel, the woman at the well. How does a Samaritan woman fit into Lent, into dying and rising? As with other Gospel experiences, so here: an image, a striking image, for life that comes through death. When the woman wonders aloud how a Jew can ask a Samaritan for water, Jesus responds, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is asking you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.”
The story living water is a drama about faith. John dramatizes how an individual and a community come to believe in Jesus. Jesus takes the initiative: he speaks and a woman begins to sip living water without knowing it. In the power of the Spirit, she is hearing God’s without knowing it. Not yet does she know who Jesus is. She knows only that “…the Messiah is coming” for her, the prophet-like-Moses promised of old. Jesus asserts clearly, “I who speak to you am He.”
Still not sure who Jesus is, the woman rushes from the well, crying breathlessly to all she meets, “Come and see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” Not certainty, but a touch of hope; it’s beginning to dawn on her.
What does the Samaritan woman say to us? I suggest two responses. First, it is not only Samaritans who recognize Jesus and ask Him for living water. All of us must. You have already tasted it; you have been touched by God’s Words and the Spirit lives in you. Well then, you say, what more do you want from me? Lots more! You see, most of us have only sipped God’s living water; few thirst for it the way they thirst for a Miller Lite. For Lent, try this one-question quiz: What are you thirsty for?
The Christ who mesmerized the woman at the well must grab us and ignite us. It’s not a matter of cognitive knowledge. Yes, we know that Jesus is God’s son, but this is not enough for a disciple. We must know Him, not just about Him. The knowledge that is love; the kind of love you experience when you want to surrender all else in wild abandon. The kind of love that thrills to the presence of the other. This is the love the Samaritan woman felt, that impelled her to shout out the Good News to others. This was too good to keep to herself.
Mere words will rarely move the human heart. I suspect that what impelled all those Samaritans to run pell-mell to the well was not simply the woman’s confession: “He has told me all that I ever did.” Over and above that, something had happen to her; she had changed, she was different. And, so for us. Apostles of the Word we must be to the people in our lives day in and day out.
And so, when we ask for living water, we are taking a giant risk. We are asking God to change us, to transform us into the image of Christ, to redirect our tomorrows on the roads we cannot map. The story of the woman at the well speaks to all of us a most powerful lesson of looking at life through the eyes of faith. There is a hidden fountain within each of us: will we tap into it?