I love to listen to Mahalia Jackson, one of the greatest of the great African-American singers of the 20th century, sing "Jesus Met the Woman at the Well." The words of the refrain are simple: "Jesus met the woman at the well, and he told her everything she ever done." It goes on to recount the dialogue about the husbands, and ends with her going to the village to tell everyone that they must go and see Jesus the prophet, because "he told me everything I ever done."
Let's look at this Samaritan woman for a minute. She's come to the well as she has hundreds of times before and shes come at the hottest time of the day, most likely because she prefers to work in the heat than to suffer the disparaging comments and sideways glances of her neighbors who come when its cooler. Confronted by a Jewish man, she makes it clear that shes not to be trifled with, even baiting him a bit about his lack of a bucket when he speaks of "living water."
But he's no trifler. And she, who knows the male animal all too well, realizes that almost at once. This Jewish stranger treats her differently from all those men, taking her seriously when she asks about the meaning of this living water and later, about the right way to worship God. Yes, he tells her everything [she] ever done, and it stuns her, but first, he's built a relationship with her. And she allowed it. She didn't hide behind the customs and conventions of her world, but gave him a hearing. Was it because she was already a bit of an outlaw? Maybe. But for whatever reason, her willingness to listen to and engage with him changed her heart and her life.
Today's psalm response warns us: If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts. Its so easy to do hardening our hearts, I mean. Sometimes circumstances harden them for us, sometimes simple indifference on our part can do the job. Either way, its deadly. The Samaritan woman has every reason for a hard heart, and yet somehow she hears and responds. And what a response! She's not just politely interested in a theoretical way; instead, those words turn her into a real missionary, meaning that she understands herself as sent. His words touch her so deeply that she abandons her pride along with her water jar to go running to share the news about Jesus.
You know where all this is leading, Im sure, so lets not delay but get right to it:
How about you -- today -- as we enter the Third Week of Lent?
Are you listening for his voice?
And if you've heard it, hows your heart?
Can you bear to hear everything you ever done?
And once youve heard all that, what will you do about it?
The woman at the well offers the way to go: lets join her in telling the world that Jesus is the Christ, the One who offers living water in a world that hardly realizes that its dying of thirst. Amen.
PS: If you'd like to listen to Mahalia Jackson singing Jesus Met the Woman at the Well, you can find her here on YouTube:
—Sr. Nuala Cotter, RA