A spring in North Florida / Bob Traupman
The Third Sunday of Lent
(March 12, 2023)
We’re in an important series of Sunday scriptures used to help catechumens (those preparing to meet their Lord in baptism) on their way to a deeper faith. This is a series of three stories (1st) The Woman at the Well, (2nd) The Man Born Blind (next Sunday) and (3rd) The Raising of Lazarus. The Church has used these stories of John the Evangelist all through its history for these three Sundays to interpret for those first getting to know Jesus for the first time because they are so clear, and if you open your heart, they can have devastating, even ravishing impact for you as well.
This Sunday’s gospel (Jn 4:5-42) has Jesus and his buddies passing through Samaritan territory.
Here are a few notes from Scripture scholar William Barclay once again. Jesus was on his way to Galilee in the north of Palestine from Judaea in the south. But he had to pass through Samaria, unless he took the long way across the Jordan River. Jacob’s well stands at the fork of the road in Samaria, one branch going northeast, the other going west. This place has many memories for Jews as Jacob bought this ground and bequeathed it to Joseph who had his bones brought back here for burial. The well itself is more than 100 feet deep. You also need to know the Jews and Samaritans had a feud that had lasted for centuries.
William Barclay tells us that this story shows us a great deal about the character of Jesus.
~ It shows us his real humanity. He was weary from the journey and he sat by the side of the well, tired and trying to relax a little.
~ It shows us the warmth of his empathy. From an ordinary religious leader, from one of the orthodox church leaders of the day the Samaritan woman would have fled in embarrassment. She at last had met someone who was not a critic, but a friend; it seemed so easy and relaxed for her to talk with him.
~ It shows that Jesus is one who breaks down barriers. The quarrel between the Jews and the Samaritans was an old, old story, going back to 720 B.C. when the Assyrians that invaded the northern kingdom and captured it. The Samaritans lost their racial purity and therefore lost their right to be called Jews. Jesus wades into the middle of this controversy.
~ And there is still another way Jesus was taking down barriers. The Samaritan was a woman. The strict Rabbis forbade Rabbis to greet a woman in public, not even their own wife or daughter. And not only that, she was also a woman of “notorious character”. No decent man, let alone a Rabbi, would have been seen in her company, or even exchanging a word with her, and yet Jesus entered into conversation with her.
And now here’s my telling of the story . . .
Jesus and his buddies came to the well; and his buddies went off to the nearby town of Sychar, apparently, to find some food. The hour’s about noon and Jesus is weary, hot, dusty, sweaty (I presume) and thirsty.
He sits down by Jacob’s well but has no bucket; the cool stuff is right down there but he can’t get himself a drink.
Along comes a woman with a bucket and he’s about to break all kinds of taboos: One, Jews don’t associate with Samaritans, as I said. Second, men don’t speak to women in public. She is shocked by his shattering both of these impenetrable barriers and is quite flustered. And third, she’s not exactly a woman of high moral standing.
He soon puts her at ease by asking her for a drink. As the great Teacher he is, he reverses the symbol and says he will give her “living waters so she will never be thirsty again.”
She’s intrigued and begins to relax into his accepting, easy manner.
(We forget that He was probably a handsome 31-year-old.) In fact, she quickly feels such total acceptance that she trusts him to touch her–on the inside. And at some point, I realized that I had to learn how to proclaim (share ) the Good News not over the heads of masses of people but to share it as Jesus did here in a stranger’s town–one person at a time.
I ache inside when I realize so many have turned a deaf ear to people’s needs because we priests and bishops often do not match our words with the lives we lead or because we use harsh and condemning words that push people away and sting their souls instead of drawing them close. Pope Francis is showing us the way to do this too.
In my videographer’s eye I can see the two of them sitting close to each other on the wall of the well, gently conversing as Jesus listens to the story of her brokenness. I’ve learned that the only legitimate way to preach the gospel is to do so in mutual regard and respect and in mutual vulnerability.
If we keep yelling at people in harsh words we will be justifiably tuned out. St. Francis of Assisi is known to have said, “Preach the gospel; when necessary, use words.”
I look to Pope Francis and am in awe of this holy man at–now eighty-six-years-old with his youthful vigor and eternal smile and his message of “mercy upon mercy upon mercy.” Oh! How I wish I could serve again like that. I pray that in some small way that it would be so!
The story of the woman at the well ends by telling us that this wonderful human being in Whom-God-shown-through (re: the Gospel of the Transfiguration — Second Sunday of Lent) broke down the wall of prejudice and hostility between Jews and Samaritans so dramatically that the whole town welcomed him; and he and his buddies–his twelve apostles–stayed for two days.
And there you have it, dear friends. This is the Jesus I know and love. And desire so much to be like.
I give thanks that I have had mentors who drew me close.
In whose loving embrace I received non-judgmental love
and through whose example I myself desire to love without judgment.
In my own thirst to receive the faith of those I meet and care for
may I always bring them to You, the spring of living water
so that the water you give them “will become IN THEM
a spring of living water welling up to eternal life.”
So be it! AMEN!
Here’s Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge over Troubled Waters Click here.
Years ago when I first heard this song, I thought Jesus was / is the bridge!
And here are all of the Mass readings that accompany this story, that is with catechumens or candidates for the sacraments of Initiation present, Click here.
William Barclay: the Gospel of John – Volume 1 Revised Edition pp. 146 – 151. / The Daily Study Bible Series The Westminster Press – Philadelphia 1975