Click, click, click of the typewriter keys on the third Sunday of Lent. Today’s reading has to be one of the longest narratives in the New Testament Jn 4:5-42 . When Jesus gets into a discussion with that Samaritan woman at the well, it is a lengthy and long drawn out dialogue. That is particularly notable because the ill feelings between the Jews of Jerusalem and the people of Samaria. They would have avoided each other at all costs. Even more peculiar was that the conversation was between a Jewish male and a Samaritan woman. To converse presented some cultural peculiarities for sure. This cast of characters is but one portion of this dialogue.
As the first reading Ex 17:3-7 suggests the story has as much to do about water as it does the conversation. In the OT reading the people are complaining during the exodus. To quench the building doubt and anger the LORD has Moses bang his staff against a rock to so that water might flow from it. In the NT reading the woman is drawing water from a cistern, it is Jacobs well. The third mention of water is when Jesus tells the woman that he can bring her “living water” so that she might never thirst again. Living water has a specific meaning in Judaism, it is the water that can make one ritually clean. Its requirements are that it be unconstrained and free flowing. The water from the rock could be considered living water, it flowed freely when the rock was struck. The water from a cistern is not living water, it is stagnant and contained. An example of living water is a stream with fish, and fish are prominent in Lent. Those are just a few notes on water. Think of all the other accounts of water in the Gospel, baptism, holy water, the flood, the red sea. It has the dual purpose of destruction and cleansing. Water both takes and restores life. In baptism one dies in the water and rises in Christ. John the Baptist baptized in a water of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus does much the same at this well. He draws much out of the woman as is evident by the lengthy conversation, and He offers the living water that is Jesus Christ. Confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
The theme of water, living versus stagnant comes into play in another way. Living water is free flowing. It is not contained. Notice how Jesus is not constrained by social conventions. He freely crosses into Samaria ignoring and destroying a boundary. He speaks to the woman and accepts her, and that destroys yet another boundary. Finally in offering her that living water he offers her an unconditional forgiveness and welcomes her back. At that well Jesus broke every barrier that stood between that woman and salvation. At the end of the dialogue she is truly free.
The conversation speaks on a number of different levels. For the personal, baptism and confession (Jesus does draw a confession from this woman by asking about her husband) certainly enter the discussion. It also speaks on an international level, Jesus and the woman at the start of the conversation are from different countries. The conversation has an ecumenical dimension also. In society isn’t there also an effort to destigmatize also, Didn’t Jesus ask her for a glass of water? Didn’t He ignore the stigma of associating with a woman who was at the fringes of society? Jesus shows that Gods live and mercy have no bounds, it cannot be contained by any invention of man.
I have not even begun to talk about when the Apostles return, that is another discussion