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Third Sunday in Lent: “The Woman at the Well” (John, 4:5-42)

Réjeanne Bourque, CND

In this Gospel passage, we discover Jesus in one of the unique encounters recorded in the Gospels. We find him in conversation with a woman, the longest conversation with either man or woman of which we have a record. He was on his way to Galilee from Jerusalem. Jews and Samaritans were divided by religious differences, and Jews usually avoided going through Samaria, a country lying between Judea and Galilee. Rather, they made a detour. Jesus was audacious in transgressing the current customs and daring to speak in public to a woman, a Samaritan at that, and one who was looked upon as being a sinner.

It was no accident that Jesus was sitting at the well when she came along. Jesus was tired and thirsty, but he who read the hidden secrets of the heart intended to meet her.

The woman herself was surprised at Jesus’ boldness in disregarding proper procedures. What did Jesus see in her that others did not see? Jesus saw a woman in need that day. Like Jesus, she too was weary, not so much from the water jug she carried as from the emptiness she carried in her heart. Was she a sinner or had she been sinned against? She was probably a woman who had been rejected over and over again. Men could divorce their wives according to Deuteronomy. Margaret Wold who wrote, “Women of Faith and Spirit” suggests that she was a woman who had been rejected and divorced by five husbands, likely because she could not bear children. When she comes to the well on this memorable day in her life, she is a woman with a broken self-image, who has deep feelings of guilt and worthlessness, who feels that nobody could really ever love her. Jesus knows her pain and loneliness. He wants to quench the profound thirst in her aching heart. As their eyes meet, he sees within that aching heart, a cistern in her soul that will forever remain empty unless he fills it. He reaches out to her. When she begins to tell him about herself, he seems to say, “I know. I know what it feels like not to be wanted, to be treated with contempt by people you were willing to love.

When she brings up the topic of the promise of the coming of the Messiah, Jesus reveals to her something he had not revealed to anyone else: “I am he”.

Life for the woman at the well was changed forever! She was no longer the rejected one. She was accepted, loved, forgiven, worthy, lifted up! He had awakened in her something much deeper than Jacob’s Well.

She left the water pot at the well. That was the symbol of her old life that she left behind. Her encounter gave her wings! She could not keep it to herself. She was free from shame and fear! She no longer cared about what others might think of her. She ran to the nearby town of Sychar to tell everybody she met about the man at the well.

Jesus thirsts again today. Might he not be saying to us, “I thirst for you to let me love you. You are often so busy about many things, and do not allow yourself the time to relax in my presence, and just let me love you.” Jesus thirsts again today in the many people who do not have access to clean water. Let us support those striving to improve their situation. Jesus thirsts again today in the many people around us longing for love, acceptance, a listening ear or even a friendly smile. Let us try to be aware of the thirst of those near to us and the ways in which we may be called to quench that thirst.

And what about our own thirst? If we take the time to listen, we might hear Jesus saying to us as he did to the Samaritan woman, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water... Whoever drinks the water I give will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give will become within that person a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”


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