3rd Sunday Lent Year A
27 March 2011
We are about a third of the way through Lent and perhaps it’s a good time to review our progress and think about the 4 remaining weeks. In Lent we are looking to become more sensitive to the role of sin in our lives…and more sensitive to the role of Jesus in our lives; sensitive to God’s love and mercy and sensitive to the contradiction that exists between what we say we believe and what we actually do. We believe in Christian morality, mercy and forgiveness and that we should love our neighbour as ourselves; we believe that this life is but a pilgrimage to eternal life …. but often our behaviour, thoughts and desires suggest quite the opposite. We live for the pleasures of the today, our actions are motivated by a self-serving love and our Christian values are compromised by greed and pride.
We need Lent as a time to look at ourselves honestly; to see ourselves as God sees us. I think there are lessons we can learn from the Samaritan women at the well that can sustain and encourage us on the road that lies ahead as we prepare to celebrate the very core of what we believe at Easter.
Some of us will have made a slow start to Lent – only just getting warmed up; and some haven’t yet got out of bed. Well it’s time to get moving; it’s time to get out into desert because Jesus is waiting for us at the well.
Others of us will have jumped out of bed enthusiastically on Ash Wednesday determined to make this Lent a personal best. Prayer, sacrifice and service; perhaps chosen to deprive ourselves of favourite foods or leisure activities, entertainment or pleasure; perhaps chosen to indulge ourselves in spiritual reading, meditation and prayer; or perhaps we’ve thought to get a handle on a bad habit or find moderation in excess; or resolved to mend a damaged relationship.
Some of us will have started out well and are on course for a strong finish. And some of us will have set out too fast and are now gasping for air asking ourselves if we can stay the pace for another four weeks. I started out well enough but spent three days in this past week at a conference at a luxury resort …..and neglected just about every one of my Lenten resolutions.
It’s time to take stock and to take action. Jesus is waiting at the well.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus is walking from Judea in the south to Galilee in the north. Samaria lies in the middle between the two provinces but because of centuries of embittered hatred between the Jewish people and the Samaritans the most common route between Judea and Galilee was a detour around the eastern flank of Samaria to avoid any contact with the Samaritans who were considered foreigners. Jesus however was taking the shorter route directly through Samaria.
Jacob’s Well in Samaria is about halfway between Jerusalem in Judea and Capernaum in Galilee and has been called the most authentic of all the Holy Places. The well is situated on a piece of land bought by Jacob and bequeathed to his son Joseph. When Joseph died in Egypt, his body was brought back to the Holy Land and buried close to the well. The well is about 40 metres deep with the water being about 20 metres from the surface and it’s just over 2 metres wide. It remains today a place of great reverence for Christians, Jews and Moslems alike.
When the Samaritan woman approached the well, Jesus was already there ……waiting.
He waits for each one of us to approach him.
The fact that she comes to draw water in the middle of the day implies that she’s an outcast in the village and is not welcome to join the other women who would draw water at dawn or dusk when it was much cooler. She’s an outcast because of her lifestyle; she’s had 5 husbands and is living with a man to whom she is not married. It’s impossible for her to hide these facts about her private life from the small community in which she lives and she is shunned. We are much better able to hide our private lives from the community but while we can hide from each other, we can’t hide from Christ.
Jesus, sitting at Jacob’s Well , would have seen the woman approaching from a distance and he knew that it was forbidden for a Jewish man of talk to a woman in public and absolutely unthinkable that he would speak to a Samaritan woman. The woman approaching the well would also have known this and perhaps it’s an expression of her desperation or the fact that she was beyond caring about what other people thought of her that she didn’t turn away when she saw Jesus.
Let’s put ourselves in her position for a moment. Jesus looks at us and he sees us through and through. He sees every thought, every action, every intention, every desire. How comfortable does that make us feel?
Jesus doesn’t criticise or condemn her – he asks her first to draw water from the well that he might drink. What is it that Jesus wants from us this Lent? If we look deep into the wells of our hearts, what is it that Jesus wants us to draw out and give to him?
The Samaritan woman while being shocked that Jesus speaks to her is not afraid to engage him first in argument and then in her demands. We too can be quick to present our arguments and demands to God. The argument: How can you draw water if you don’t even have a bucket? Don’t you understand Lord that your will is really not practical in this day and age? The demand: Give me some of that water so I’ll never thirst and never have to come to the well again. Lord, give me everything I need to satisfy my desires, keep me from suffering and live a happy, stress-free life.
Jesus doesn’t respond as she expects. Instead we see an amazing turnaround of events. She realises that Jesus is listening to her, understands her, knows everything about her and loves her in spite of her dreadful mistakes and sinfulness. She finds hope, courage and new life in being honest with him.
And he offers her the gift of eternal life; a gift that has been offered to us in the living waters of our baptism.
The Samaritan woman and the people of the town believed in Jesus not because of miracles but through his word. Once the Samaritan woman believed that Jesus was telling the truth she began to desire it in her heart. Once the people of the town had heard Jesus for themselves rather than about him from the woman, they knew that he was the saviour of the world.
In this Lent we could choose to be honest with Jesus about our lives and listen to his word. We could face up to the ugliness of our sin and believe that we can love better because we are already so deeply loved.
In and through prayer, sacrifice and service we will hear his word, we will hear his voice.