Third Sunday of Lent - Year A

Joseph A. Genito, O.S.A.
Church of Saint Rita of Cascia
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Ex 17: 3-7
Ps 95: 1-2, 6-7, 8-9
Rom 5: 1-2, 5-8
Jn 4: 5-42

Drawing water from the well was a commonplace task for women in the time of Jesus, a daily, almost tedious repetition of going to the well, bringing water home, and doing the household chores, day after day after day. And would she be given any recognition for this, any approbation, or involved in a meaningful conversation about her opinion? Of course not. She was a woman, a servant; it was her job. She would be deemed valuable mainly for the ancillary duties she performed and the children she bore. So imagine the surprise of this Samaritan woman the day that Jesus encountered her at the well and engaged her in conversation.

The apostles also were amazed that Jesus was speaking to a woman, and a Samaritan woman at that. In his day, the Gospel says, the Jews had nothing in common with the Samaritans. That is a bit of an understatement. In his Dictionary of the Bible, Fr. John McKenzie states: “There was no deeper breach of human relations in the contemporary world than the feud of Jews and Samaritans, and the breadth and depth of Jesus’ doctrine of love could demand no greater act of a Jew than to accept a Samaritan as (an equal).”

In today’s society, the same could be said of the acrimony among many factions, be they religious, ethnic, racial, political, or economic.

Jesus’ attitude in this encounter reflects the first and most basic social teaching of the Church, that all people are created as God’s children and deserve respect and dignity, no matter their race, gender, or ethnic affiliation.

The story uses water, essential for life, as the central symbol. The argument could be made that justice, similarly, is essential for spiritual life. Jesus’ discourse demonstrates that we are spiritually alive and refreshed when we subscribe to his ways, acknowledging that every person is God’s child to be valued, and that the human race is called to live and work in solidarity.

What Jesus did that day by the well was truly amazing - and revolutionary and radical as well, in that he challenged the accepted beliefs, suppositions, and prejudices of his day. He “amazed” his disciples by this unlikely act of social contact, thereby motivating them to see things in a new light.

In his discourse, Jesus says “Salvation is from the Jews,” meaning that the Jews were chosen by God as a special people, a people set apart. But the cost attached to the right and privilege of being God’s chosen people was that they should be signs and instruments of bringing others to salvation as well. In time their viewpoint became elitist and exclusive, and the teaching of Jesus was seen as dangerous, even scandalous, so they rejected him and sought to silence him.

The same could be said of ourselves today. If Jesus were among us now, he would exhort us to open our minds and hearts to the immigrants, mistrusted out of fear and marginalized because their customs and language differ, like the Samaritans. He used the example of the hated Samaritans elsewhere - the only one of the ten lepers to come back to thank him, and of course, the most famous of all, the consummate good neighbor, the Good Samaritan - to grab the attention of the Jews and illustrate that God values all human beings, not just the ones they approved of. The same goes for us. We Americans can be elitist, thinking our way of life is better than, and we ourselves above, those who live in disadvantaged circumstances. Acts of terrorism abound in other parts of the world, but there is never as much of an outcry as when terrorists strike on our soil. We should be equally outraged about the people in Africa dying of AIDS, the children in Brazil dying from malnutrition, and those all over the world who are worked literally to death in sweatshops, adult and child alike. When Jesus gave equal attention to prostitutes, tax collectors, the lame and the blind he made an emphatic point that they were every bit as valuable as the “righteous” people of his time.

Unfortunately, a story like this loses the shock value it would have had for those who first witnessed the event because nowadays we have become inured to the teachings of Jesus and do not appreciate just how radical and disturbing they were, and how much they stood in defiance of the religious authorities of his day. He startled them with his prophetic stance on behalf of what was right, and his challenging of the status quo.

The moral of the story is that if we are to profess our belief in Jesus Christ, and to evangelize as he did, we too must promote justice as a basic essential like water, and follow his example in opposing the systems which perpetuate injustice.