Third Sunday Of Lent, February 24, 2008

Exodus 17: 3 - 7

Romans 5: 1 - 2, 5 - 8

John 4: 5 - 42

Explanatory Note
The text of John 4 is surprising, for the links between the different dialogues are far from obvious. The use of a "typical" encounter scene at a well and the oracle of Hosea (2, 4-25) where God condemns and then calls the unfaithful wife to conversion, helps the reader to see the unifying thread as the theme of God taking back his unfaithful People.

The scene is constructed around the following points: the trip to a foreign country - home of the future spouse, the meeting of a young or several young women at a well, the conversation, the request for and the gift of a drink, the return home of the young woman and her telling about what happened, the invitation to a meal offered to the foreigner. But the conclusion of John 4 is quite different from the other narratives.

The narrative begins with a journey. Jesus is passing from Judea into Galilee and He crosses Samaria, a foreign land. There, He sits down by a well tired from his journey. For anyone familiar with the Old Testament, this scene can conjure up three others: the mission of Abraham's servant, sent to find a wife for Isaac (Gen 24), the encounter of Jacob and Rachel (Gen 29) and the flight of Moses into Midian where he meets the daughters of Reuel (Ex 2). These narratives are developed according to the same schema - and the woman who comes to the well is always the future bride.

Things turn out differently in the story of the Samaritan woman. Jesus initiates the conversation and says to the woman: Give me a drink. The Samaritan refuses to give water. Then, Jesus presents Himself as the living water. In offering water, Jesus reacts as Jacob and Moses who water their future spouses' animals. In the Book of Hosea, in the scene of the unfaithful wife's trial, the husband, God, in the course of the case, cites the words of the wife: For she said: I am going after my lovers, those who give me my bread and water, my wool and linen, my oil and my drinks. The unfaithful wife believes wrongly that she receives all these gifts from her lover; but they come from God. To give water is a gesture that can reveal the future or the true husband.

If marriage is the backdrop of the meeting at the well, we can understand why suddenly, after the Samaritan has accepted the living water and has thus entered into a dynamic that leads to marriage, Jesus tells her to go and bring back her husband. The woman has to realize what she is saying! It is necessary to finish with the ambiguity. We learn, then, that the woman has had six men. So the Samaritan woman with several husbands has more than one thing in common with the unfaithful wife of Hosea. It's only one step from husbands to false gods. Hence the question concerning true religion and the worship of the true God, who is also the true husband for both the Samaritan and the Jewish people.

The Samaritan then goes to the other villagers and Jesus speaks with his disciples. The conversation is about the harvest. In the Book of Hosea, at the end of the oracles, God proclaims that He is going to seduce his unfaithful wife, that she will come back to Him and the text describes the fruit of the conversion: God will give her back her fertility, wheat, new wine, fresh oil. Jesus, for his part, speaks of a harvest that is already ripe because it follows the planting almost directly. Undoubtedly, in speaking of this harvest, He wanted to speak of the Samaritans who come to Him, while He is talking to the disciples, to see if He is the true Messiah. They are the harvest of Samaria who finds her true husband and her fidelity. The return to the truth is symbolized by the image of the earth which bears an abundant harvest.

On one hand, the Gospel of John repeats the structure of the meeting of future spouses at a well; on the other hand, it recalls the unfaithful wife. Where is the Samaritan woman situated? Certainly, with the unfaithful wife because she was already married. Her problem is not that of finding a husband, but to put some order in her life. She has to find her sole true husband just as Samaria has to find or re-find her sole true God. Jesus comes to restore the marriage, the broken covenant.

Doubtless, in this time of Lent, the Gospel is an invitation for us to put order into our lives, to recognize the gift of God, his Covenant with us. And to recognize our own infidelities, to revive the desire to follow Christ more faithfully each day, to seek his love.

Lord, speak to our hearts, to the most intimate of ourselves. There where we feel our tendency to be unfaithful, to be self-absorbed, and bring us to truth. Take away all that keeps us from being our true selves, from being there deep within where you are present. Purify us from the obstacles placed by false desires and superficial aspirations, all that keeps the desire to belong to you from being felt. Let our desire for you be freed and break forth in a cry: My soul longs for the Living God ! Give me that water.

—Sophie Ramond, R.A.