Gospel Reflection for March 15, 2020, Third Sunday of Lent

Scouring the universe for signs of life, scientists search for any sign of water knowing that in water the simplest life forms have their origin. In the creation account in Genesis 2, God created the man out of clay – he took water and mixed it with dirt, and created the man.

Yet, water is more than the origin of life, it is the principal make-up of life as we know it. Approximately 58 percent of the adult human body is comprised of water. Water is also the most essential nutrient needed for survival. We not only drink water, it is the primary substance in what we drink, and in the natural foods we eat.

The ancient Israelites, among others, imagined the universe to be mostly water. Where we now know the vacuum of space, they believed that the earth was surrounded by water – something akin to a snow globe.

As the Israelites trekked through the desert with Moses their need for water would have been great. Such a large number of people would need much water. Frustrated, Moses calls upon God who provides water for them as Moses strikes the rock. This sign stands for the people of Israel of God’s never ending mercy and his outpouring of life for them.

When the Israelites resettled the Promised Land they returned to heritage sites, and constructed new settlements around water sources. One of those heritage sites was Jacob’s Well. This location connected them to their most distant origins, and reminded them that, though identified in distinct tribes, they shared a single common ancestor in Jacob. While there were other non-Israelite tribes descendent from Abraham, it was through Jacob that they were united.

It is to this ancient well, then in Samaritan territory, that Jesus traveled with his disciples. Here, alone, Jesus encounters a lone woman as she comes to the well to fetch water for the day. Oddly, it is noontime, not the usual time for uncovering the well to draw water. There are many possible reasons why this woman chooses this time of day. Perhaps she doesn’t enjoy the usual town gossip. Perhaps she is unable to go at the usual time due to family or health reasons. Perhaps, as we learn she lives a somewhat unconventional lifestyle she is an outcast in the community. Whatever her situation is, Jesus remains at the well alone waiting for her. She is the only person that Jesus waited intentionally to meet.

How startled must she have been when she arrives at the well to find a solitary man, a Jewish man no less, sitting by the well. This breaks all social norms, and she must have been well out of her comfort zone. Jews and Samaritans had no real interaction with each other. It was also unseemly for an unrelated man and woman to be alone together. Yet, Jesus initiates a conversation with her. He seems to just ask for a cup of water. But, as is typical of John’ accounts of Jesus’ encounters with others, his conversation with this woman is much more than just about water. Yes, Jesus is thirsty and he asks her to draw some water for him to drink. She initially objects, not for her sake but for his. She knows that a Jew was not permitted to use the same cup as a Samaritan, and so she reminds him of this fact. While he might be thirsty for water, he knows that her thirst runs much deeper. Though she is not aware of it herself, she longs for the water that leads to life – not just this life – but life eternal. It is here that Jesus prepares her, and us, for Baptism – the very water necessary for eternal life. Water, then, is not just the seedbed of this life it is the first component necessary for eternal life.

His conversation with her is more and more revealing. As her life unfolds before her, revealed to her by this stranger, she cowers not in fear, but instead is freed from her burden, and anxious to share the message of Jesus with the people of her village. Although presumably a bit of an outcast, her own townsfolk are open to her calling and come to Jesus with open minds and hearts, ready to hear the Word from him and not just through her.

This is our desire in the reception of Baptism – that freed from our burdens we are enlivened to proclaim the Gospel, showing to all to the path of eternal life.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.