Samaritan woman


Freed by the Truth

(Exodus 17:3-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-2, 5-8; John 4:5-42)


Are you thirsty for more, for all that life has to give?

Jesus alone can quench our thirst and give us the fullness of life.

When Albert, a young seminarian, began spiritual direction, his spiritual director asked him to recount his story. Over two sessions, Albert talked for over two hours, the first time he had ever told someone else his life’s story. His director then pointed out that he needed to work on his relationship with his father, and told him to pray with Isaiah 43 only (“I am precious and honored in God’s sight, because God loves me”) for one whole month.

That experience of telling his story to his spiritual director was a turning point in Albert’s life. He felt accepted and filled with hope for a better future. Praying with that scripture passage was also transformational. He who had tried for so many years to earn his father’s love (and implicitly God’s love as well) now was confronted with the powerful liberating reality that he was precious in God’s sight, not for what he had done, but simply because God loved him!

Interestingly, in today’s gospel, a woman at a well experiences a spiritual director, Jesus, who hears her story, speaks words of hope to her, and that encounter transforms her life.

The Samaritan woman sees herself as no-body. She is shy, ashamed of her broken marriage and five failed relationships and embarrassed about her common-law relationship. Her situation can be compared to that of the Israelites in the first reading. They were thirsting for water in the desert, feeling only the absence of God, and wondering if God was with them or not. And so Moses had to intervene, and they were given water miraculously, water from a rock to quench their physical thirst.

The Samaritan woman also had faith, and belonged to the Samaritan religion. Yet despite her faith and her religion, her life was a mess. Feeling shame-based, isolated, outcast, she goes to the well at noon so no one will see her, and encounters Jesus.

Samaritan woman, Giovanni Lanfranco

Jesus, the Lord of all creation, puts himself in a position of want, need, and vulnerability. The exclusivity of the Jewish religion would not allow them to speak to a Samaritan; a sinner, a woman in public, and especially not about religious matters. It is as if Jesus is blind to colour, race, religion and social status. With overwhelming gentleness, love and compassion, he breaks all social norms and religious taboo by asking her for a drink. He thirsts for her being, her soul, and asks her to “tell him her story.” At the same time, he thirsts for her to come to know him for who he really is – the source of real life, of living water.

Little by little, and not without some denial and defensiveness on her part, she reveals her “inner self” to him, and comes to know who he is in a gradual, beautiful progression. First, she calls him a “Jew”, then “Sir”, then “greater than Jacob”, then “Prophet”, and finally confesses him as the “Messiah, the Christ”.

In this encounter with Jesus, she experiences God’s loving forgiveness that contains both unconditional acceptance of her as she is, and unlimited belief in the person she could become. This unconditional love is slowly revealed in this story first as “the gift of God”, then “living water”, then “eternal life”, and finally, “salvation”.

This experience of God’s unconditional love, of her truth being known completely, accepted and forgiven by Jesus, heals and transforms her. The woman experiences the living water of an intimate, trusting, loving relationship with her God. She forgets about her water jug, runs to town unashamed, and announces to all “come and see someone who knows all about me, and still loves me.” She has gone to confession, has done Step Five, and now becomes the first evangelist – the very first person in the gospel of John to spread the Good News that Jesus is the Messiah and Savior!

The townspeople respond to her invitation. In contrast to the hard-hearted religious leaders, they come to believe in Jesus as the “Savior of the world,” and beg him to stay with them, which he does. St. John, in this passage at the beginning of the gospel, has given us a model of healing and discipleship, of following Jesus, and she is a woman, a Samaritan, a no-body. How great and mysterious is God’s love.

Once again in this gospel we see that Christ is the fulfillment of what the Law could only promise. Real worshippers are those who worship God within a new relationship that could be encompassed by neither Judaism nor the Samaritan religion.

Anthony, a young lay person, prayed with this passage on a retreat. He followed the instructions of his retreat director to put himself into the passage and try to experience it for himself. He struggled with an addiction, and suddenly saw himself as the Samaritan woman. When Jesus asked him to go and get his spouse, he realized that he was struggling with character defects underlying his addiction – false pride, envy, lust, control, and phoniness. He was being confronted with the truth of who he was. In prayer, he realized that perhaps he was just beginning to worship in “spirit and truth,” the kind of prayer that God really wants of us. We have nothing to hide from Jesus; with him, the truth will set us free. He was filled with excitement – perhaps in this kind of prayer, facing his own inner self, his deepest truth, he was being set free, filled with living water, rather than turning to those false gods that had so controlled his life before.

The Eucharist we celebrate today is our own Jacob’s well – here we meet Jesus who listens to us through the Penitential rite, who reveals God’s love to us through the Word, and who then gives us that food of eternal life through the Eucharist. We are slowly being transformed into the Body of Christ, and empowered to go out and, like the Samaritan woman, spread the Good News that God is in our land.

Imagine how God wants, and can, work in your life, to transform you into a renewed, fully alive, forgiven and healed disciple. Will you let him quench your thirst, and fill you with eternal life, during this celebration, during this time of Lent?

Updated: March 12, 2023 — 3:52 am

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