The 3rd Sunday of Lent, Cycle A

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

Not long ago, I came across a very interesting survey. What got my attention was how brief and unusual it was, given its audience. The author asked hundreds of business men and women a single question, and wanted a single-word answer: “If you could say in one word what you want more of in life, what would that be?”

As we think about our own answer, let me just say that “money” did not come in first (not that any of us was thinking that). No, first place went to “happiness.” Some of the other top answers were freedom, peace, joy, and fulfillment. All these from business people, many of whom are no doubt wealthy or at least holding their own financially.

This got me to wondering about the Samaritan woman in today’s gospel, and what she would have said. We don’t know a lot about her, but from the little we do know, I would guess that she, like the people in the survey, wasn’t too happy, didn’t feel very free, was not at peace, and probably felt unfulfilled. For that matter, what about us? My guess is that we, like many people across the ages, have felt pretty much the same.

So, how do we get that way? To borrow a concept from the gospel, by looking for the right water in the wrong well. What’s the right water? The things we most want, deep down: Happiness, peace, freedom, fulfillment. What’s the wrong well? Anything that can never supply them. We think, “If I have this food, those clothes, that home, I’ll be happy!” But after we get them, what happens? We tire of them and thirst all over again. “OK, maybe THIS food, THOSE clothes, THAT home…” It’s a cycle; the more we drink the wrong water, the thirstier we become, and the more we drink. The irony is that we will risk losing sight of everything, even God, in our relentless pursuit of what it turns out that only God can give! This is why, centuries earlier, the Lord said through the prophet Jeremiah, Two evils my people have done: they have forsaken me, the source of living waters; They have dug themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water (Jeremiah 2:13).

Jacob’s well was no broken cistern but the Samaritan woman certainly was, and Jesus really wanted to see her. We know that because John says, Jesus had to pass through Samaria (John 4:4). There were well-known routes around that country, to the east and west. No, he went to see her, just like he comes to see us. Why? What does he offer people drinking from the wrong well? A way out. Remember his words to her at the start: If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water. (John 4:10). He’s challenging her, challenging all of us: Know me, and ask for the life that only I can give.

At first, she resisted; made light of it, stayed with the water she understood. We all do that, for at least a couple of reasons. First, habits are hard to break, even harder when they’re habits we like. Second, it’s a lot easier to run from problems than it is to face them. But there is no running from Christ. He knows exactly how to get our attention; he hits very close to home. For the woman, it was when he said, Go call your husband and come back (John 4:16). Imagine the shock, not only of how he could know the truth, but having to look the truth straight in the eye. This is the encounter with Christ, who is the Truth; he not only shows us who he is, he shows us who we are. As the scholar William Barclay once said, “We never really see ourselves until we see ourselves in the presence of Christ; and then we are appalled at the sight.”

Christ is the truth, but he is the way and the life as well. Although he does show us who we are, he also shows us who we are made to be. We saw this in the readings for the first two weeks of Lent; yes, sin entered the world, and through sin our thirst for dead water, but Christ also entered the world, and by his passion, death, and resurrection has opened the way to eternal life. Now, in the 3rd week of Lent, our Lord teaches us that the choice is ours: Are we going to keep taking water from the wrong well, or are going to turn to Christ, and take the living water of his infinite grace?

That was the question before the Samaritan woman. We know what she did, John tells us: She left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, ‘Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ’ (John 4:28-29)? She became an evangelizer. For the first time in a long time, maybe the first time ever, this woman knew happiness, peace, and fulfillment like she had never known.

That leaves us. The choice is ours: There, the same old well, the same dead water; here, Christ, the Living Water. He comes to this well today, and every day, in the Blessed Sacrament, just to see us. All he asks is that we do what the Samaritan woman did: Have the courage to face ourselves as we are, the honesty to call the truth the truth, and the humility to put the old water jar down and seek the infinite grace of forgiveness that he is so eager to give. After that, the only question is, how much of the Living Water do you want?


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