“COME TO THE SPRING OF LIVING WATERS, FLOWING FROM THE HEART OF GOD”
First Reading: Exodus 17:3-7
Responsorial Psalm: 94(95):1-2,6-9
Second Reading: Romans 5:1-2,5-8
Gospel Reading: John 4:5-42
The phrase “Water is Life” is quite a common expression because water is the main means of life for animals, plants, and humans, and without water life on Earth would be impossible. Water is present in the body structure of human beings and occupies more than half of the entire Planet Earth. Water is present in domestic use and is the main basis for the production of consumer goods since it is present both in the industrial sector and in food production (agriculture). Between 60% and 70% of the human body is made up of water. It helps hydrate and take nutrients such as oxygen and mineral salts to the cells, in addition to expelling toxic substances from the body through sweat and urine. Thus, water is related to virtually every function in an aqueous medium performed by the body. It helps with digestion by being part of the composition of important substances, such as gastric juice. Importantly, water is present in the amniotic fluid that protects the child inside the womb, preventing the baby from being affected by external impacts throughout the pregnancy. It is also in the fluids of the joints, in order to avoid friction between the bones, and in many other functions. Due to its quintessential and indispensable value, doctors recommend that an individual consume 2 to 3 liters of water a day so as to stay hydrated and help prevent certain diseases and failure of body organs. Also, in our religious context, the Holy Spirit is said to have hovered over the waters at creation (in Genesis 1:1-12), and this element (that is water) has been used by God to offer grace and new life to God’s people by the washing and regeneration brought about by baptism; little wonder water is strongly linked as a symbol of life and grace received through the Holy Spirit. The readings of the Third Sunday of Lent offer us a good opportunity to return to the spring of living waters flowing from the heart of God, without which we cannot survive spiritually.
First, in the Gospel Reading (Jn. 4:5-42), John presents us with the “Great Dialogue”, between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, centered on Christ, the spring of Living Water. This was an unusual dialogue; it was between Jesus and the Samaritan Woman. In those days, it was forbidden for the Jews to relate with the Samaritans; in fact, they hated each other. Samaria was considered an unclean region because of the mixed origin of pagan and Jewish ancestry and also the various religions. There was enmity and rejection between Jews and Samaritans. One of the worst insults was calling someone a Samaritan (cf. 8:48). Although they worshipped Yahweh as the Jews did, their religion was not mainstream Judaism. They accepted only the first five books of the Bible as canonical, and their temple was on Mount Gerizim instead of on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. They lived in what had been the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Samaria, the name of that kingdom’s capital, was located between Galilee in the North and Judea in the South. The Samaritans of Jesus’ day were strict monotheists. In some respects, they were stricter than the Jews about the commands of the Mosaic Law, especially the Sabbath regulations, but they did not share the Jewish stricture against pronouncing the divine name, Yahweh, in their oaths. Because of their imperfect adherence to Judaism and their partly pagan ancestry, the Samaritans were despised by the Jews. Rather than contaminate themselves by passing through the Samaritan territory, the Jews who were traveling from Judea to Galilee or vice versa would cross over the river Jordan, bypass Samaria by going through Transjordan, and cross over the river again as they neared their destination. The Samaritans also harboured the same hatred toward the Jews (cf. Lk 9:52-53). The fights between Jews and Samaritans go back a long way, and there were many moments of conflict; however, a pivotal moment was when the Jews destroyed the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim around 128 B.C. Between the years 6 and 9 AD, some Samaritans scattered human bones in the temple of Jerusalem, during the feasts of Passover. There were many resentments between them.
Our Sunday’s gospel periscope tells us of Christ, a Jew, entering a Samaritan town called Sychar, where he sits by Jacob’s well. A well filled with many memories, going back to the origins of the people of Israel, long before the conflict between Jews and Samaritans. This well was the only one in the region, used since 1000 BC. until around 500 A.D. The well was essential for the life of shepherds and their flocks; it was a meeting place, resting place, and food supply (cf. Gn 16,13-14; 21,25-31; 26,19-22). Around the well, people gathered to celebrate life (Jgs 5:11) and also to discuss (Gn 26,19; Ex 2,16-17). There was a very strong connection between the well and the women (Gen 16:1-15; 24:10-27; John 4:6-7). Jesus is sitting by the fountain “about the sixth hour!”, that is, at noon; the same phrase is also used at the time of Jesus’ condemnation (Jn. 4:6; 19:14). We don’t know where the woman comes from or even her name is. Apparently, she represents the Samaritan people. Jesus asks her: “Give me a drink” (Jn. 4:7). The woman finds Jesus’ request strange: “How is it that you, being a Jew, ask me for a drink, a Samaritan woman?” (Jn. 4:9). The narrator explains the woman’s strangeness: Jews do not accept Samaritans.
Now, the conversation starts around running water but goes deeper. Jesus claims to have living water (4:10). The woman cannot understand Jesus’ answer. Amidst the misunderstanding, the Samaritan woman asks: “Lord, give me this water so that I no longer thirst or have to come here to draw” (4:15). She is still hooked on the sense of running water, but the conversation takes a turn when Jesus tells her, “Go and call your husband.” What is the relationship between living water and husband? Here, the term “husband” may be a reference to the various religions that existed among the Samaritan people. When the elites of Samaria were deported, the Assyrians placed five different peoples in the city and each one brought with them their customs and religion (cf. 2 Kings 17:24-31). The sixth husband may be the imposition of the official religion of Jerusalem since the time of John Hyrcanus (128 BC). Now, Jesus shifts and talks about a new form of worship: “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (4:23). Needless to say, the official religion of both Jerusalem and Gerizim would be rejected. Consequently, after believing that Jesus was the Messiah, she went to the city with that certainty and evangelized with the people. In the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, we can observe that first, she calls him a Jew, then a prophet, and leaving the pitcher, calls him a man, eliminating the ethnic barrier, seeing in him the possibility of being the Christ (Jn. 4,9.19.29); at the end, the Samaritans affirm: “This is indeed the Saviour of the world” (Jn. 4.42).
Dear friends in Christ, Jesus’ salvation is universal: He is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (1:29; cf. 3:16-17; 12:47). Some Samaritans believed because of the woman’s testimony; however, “many more people believed in Jesus because of his word” (Jn. 4.41). Needless to say, the thirsty Samaritans expecting the coming of the Messiah, drank and were filled with the Spring of Christ’s Living water. This dialogue makes a lot of sense to us in this season of Lent. We have been spiritually thirsty because of our sins, and as such, we should earnestly yearn for Jesus through the Word of God and the Sacraments in this period, in order to quench our spiritual thirst, for He is the fountain of life – whosoever drinks, shall never ever thirst again. We should not harden our hearts; however, we should place all our trust in God.
By contrast, the Israelites of the Old Testament, as we read in the First Reading (cf. Exodus 17:3-7), lost hope in God as they journeyed to the promised land. Due to the need to satisfy their temporal desire (thirst for material water), they complained angrily against Moses as if God was no longer with them, and requested water, forgetting how God led them out of Egypt on “eagle’s wings” through the Red Sea, and conquered their enemies; they forgot that God would give them more than water, as He had done in the past; however, they ran out of patience, hardened their hearts and tested God, saying, “is the Lord with us or not”? This is also what the Psalmist recalled [cf. Psalm 94(95):1-2,6-9]. Inasmuch as they satisfied their physical thirst, unfortunately, they didn’t satisfy their spiritual thirst as a result of their impatience and complaint against God.
Dear friends in Christ, we also are on a spiritual journey in the desert of Lent. How have we lived this period so far? In a world faced with many challenges of life, have we lost hope in God? Have we neglected God by trusting in our human capacities alone? Do we grumble against God or put him to the test in our difficult and challenging times due to our impatience? At times, our challenges could serve as a lesson to us, indicating our separation from God due to our sins, necessitating a need to thirst and return to God, the Living Water. Difficult moments call for a deeper yearning for the Living Water offered to us by Christ through the saving effects of the Sacraments and the Word of God.
The story of the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman is also a way of returning to the roots of Christian spirituality and opening up to other peoples, breaking away from prejudices and discrimination based on ethnicity, origin, religion, gender, and age. The well, the living water, and the pitcher are images used to speak of the Law. Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman moves from the theme of the well to that of the living water that Jesus has to offer. In this context, Jesus puts himself in the place of the Law and offers everyone the living water that leads to eternal life (Jn. 4:10.13; 7:37-39). Even today, there are many barriers that prevent us from getting closer to the people around us. The reading and reflection of this text continue to challenge us.
Above all, like the deer that yearns for running streams (and after discovering the running streams, it drinks to satisfaction); so also, we are called to continue to yearn for Jesus, in order that he fills our hearts with the Living Water, through the Holy Spirit. This is basically his mission in the world as clearly stated in the Second Reading (cf. Romans 5:1-2,5-8) – for the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit at the appointed hour – through the merits of Christ’s redemptive death, when his side was pierced with a lance, of which flowed blood and water – the Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist. Therefore, we should never lose hope, for our hope will never deceive us. As we approach the Eucharistic table this Sunday, the Sacrament of the sacraments, may our hearts and souls be nourished and be filled with the Living Water from the heart of God that wells up for eternal life. Amen. This is the kind of Living Water without which we cannot survive spiritually.
Fr. Chinaka Justin Mbaeri, OSJ
Paroquia Nossa Senhora de Loreto, Vila Mediros, São Paulo
firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
PS: Have you prayed your Rosary today?
Jesus Christ the living water, give me living water so that I thirst no more. Amen
Jesus Christ the living water, come to our aid