Year A Lent 3
“Lord, give me this water that I might not be thirsty again.” So says the Samaritan woman who Our Lord meets at Jacob’s Well. Our Lord is travelling in a foreign land, taking a shortcut through Samaria on his way from Jerusalem to Galilee. Samaria was an area that most Jews disliked intensely, although the two people groups were closely related, the Samaritans had abandoned worship in the Temple at Jerusalem and built their own temple. Most Jews would have gone the long way around, but Our Lord shows no prejudice. It is here, at the local watering hole, that he meets a woman in the heat of the midday sun.
This is the scene that St. John sets for a truly remarkable story. If you’ve read enough of the Scriptures, this story of a man meeting a woman at a well might sound familiar. In much the same way that our culture has templates for stories that we like to tell, so too does the ancient world. So, for instance, if you go to a movie and one of the characters is walking home from the grocery store; she will absolutely have a paper bag filled to the brim with long, French rolls of bread. Or how if a character gets shot in the heart with a bullet, he will always, always have a pocket-size bible in his shirt pocket that has miraculously absorbed the bullet. Or how everyone in the movies leaves their car keys in the visor. Or if a cop finds a suspicious bag of white powder he absolutely is going to dip his pinky in and taste it even though that’s crazy and a real police officer would never do that in a million years… I have some problems with the movies. Don’t go with me, because the cynical commentary I mumble at the screen is endless.
One of those templates of the ancient world is about how, if a man goes to the town well, he will always find a wife. Moses gets his wife at a well, as do Isaac and Jacob. Hanging out by the town well was the ancient version of the dating game, and there were typical steps to the courtship dance. We can compare to the story of Jesus at the well.
- The hero enters a foreign land. Yes, Our Lord is in Samaria
- Stops at a well. Check.
- A woman is at the well. Check.
- He accomplishes something for the woman. Yes, Our Lord offers her living water.
- The woman goes home to tell what happened. Check.
- The stranger is brought into the household. Yes, he stayed with the Samaritans for two days.
- A marriage occurs. Okay…hold on a minute.
If you were becoming more and more horrified as you began to see the implications of that list, St. John is not implying that Our Lord married this woman. This isn’t a proto-type of the Da Vinci Code and you won’t see Tom Hanks in the movie theater any time soon portraying Our Lord as a married man happily settled in Samaria with a wife and children (If he is, I promise I’ll be there to complain about the way he carries his groceries). But this event in the life of Christ clearly fits into the traditional betrothal narrative. So what exactly is happening at step number 7?
In the Samaritan woman we see a type, or a symbol, that can represent another figure. In the Scriptures this happens quite often, very frequently as a way of linking the old with the new. For instance, the Israelites marching through the Red Sea is a type for baptism, the Manna in the Desert is the Eucharist, The Sacrifice of Isaac is the Cross, even in St. John’s mention that it is Jacob’s Well we get a hint that the water of life that Jesus can offer is greater than what was provided by the Old Covenant God had with the Israelites – and the Samaritan woman? She is a type for the Bride of Christ. More specifically, she is you and me, with our own checkered pasts, our flaws, and our secret temptations who, in spite of our shortcomings, are made pure and holy through grace and are drawn into the mystical Bride of Christ. This reading of the Church as the Bride of Christ is ancient, and Pope St. Leo assures us, “The Church is …the bride of one Spouse, Who is Christ.” We make our way into the Church in the exact same way as the Samaritan woman. We, who were strangers and even enemies of God because of our sins, are by a personal encounter with Our Lord forgiven, and by receiving his mercy are united with Him. He offers us Living Water, the spiritual drink that will quench our thirst so that we never feel our tongues parched by the desert air again, never experience the aridity that is the absence of God from the human heart. In every desert there is a well. In every life of temptation and struggle there is the presence of God, redeeming all things, drawing us to himself through all things. This is the spiritual marriage of which St. John is writing, and this is the reality to which our human marriages point. In marriage, two become one. It is the same in the Church, through her marriage to Christ, we become one with him.
In her wisdom, the Church has paired this Gospel with the Old Testament story of Moses and the water that miraculously flows from a rock in the desert. Again, this story presents a type. The Rock represents Our Lord as the one who provides the Living Water in a world that seems like a spiritual desert. There is an important point here that adds more to what we’ve already considered in John’s Gospel. The Rock in the desert is Christ, but he must be struck before he becomes the fountain of life. The nature of this wound is further attested to by John, who writes that Our Lord approaches the Samaritan woman at noon. Noon is the hour that Our Lord is placed on the Cross, and later in his Gospel, John makes note of the fact that when the soldiers pierced Our Lord’s heart at the Cross, blood and water flowed from it. This wound from Our Lord’s side is the fountain of life. The passion of the Cross is the mystical moment at which the marriage of Christ and his Church is consummated. We might say that his sacrificial death is his love letter to us, the completion of his marriage vow “‘til death do us part,” his final act as a faithful spouse.
God has sees you as his pure, pristine bride, the one for whom he will give anything, suffer any pain, endure any indignity. If you are having issues with doubting your importance, or struggling with your identity, maybe feeling neglected or unfairly judged by others, Jesus is waiting for you, to draw you to himself who is all love. If this world and its pleasures and distractions have caught your attention in the past but have left you dissatisfied, he offers to you the water of life that satisfies completely. Don’t miss the opportunity. This world is such a spiritual desert, take the opportunity to find Jesus when you can and cling to him.
Lord, give us this water that we might not be thirsty again