Third Sunday of Lent
“We no longer believe because of your word, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.” (Jn. 4:42)
Those of you old enough to remember as far back as the 1960’s will surely be familiar with a musical trio that was enormously popular:
Peter, Paul, and Mary.
I remember them so well. I even got to hear them live one summer when I was studying in Washington, D.C.
Later, I presumptively fashioned myself as some kind of folk guitarist. And one of the most famous tunes I loved to sing was their version of this memorable song:
Jesus Met the Woman at the Well.
As I look back on that experience, I’m struck by the reality that this remarkable story – told only in the Gospel of John – is so celebrated and so unforgettable that everyone enjoying this song was familiar with the history behind it.
It surely must be counted, then, as being one of the most famous stories told in the entirety of the New Testament.
And it also happens to describe the lengthiest encounter Jesus has with any person in all of Sacred Scripture!
Representing the lowest of the low at that time, a female in a society where women were both demeaned and disgraced, as well as living with the reality of constant shame as a social outcast due to her series of divorces, this woman talking with Jesus ranks as one of the most treasurable stories in the entire Bible.
But why did John, the author of this story, give it so much time and so much attention?
The ultimate reason, among others, is because the author of this story patiently attempts to carefully teach this woman, and all of us as well, that several matters are of primary importance to Jesus.
An obvious issue is that many people carry untold pain in their lives from poor decisions they made or because of terrible things that have happened to them.
Today we would call them victims of trauma.
Through this story, as well as many others, Jesus powerfully demonstrates his love for all people, especially those burdened with severe heartaches of whatever kind.
For this woman, the untold pain she was forced to endure due to a series of divorces, to say nothing of the status of being a woman in a world controlled entirely by men, had most likely seriously damaged her life.
She was essentially seen as an undeserving, even contemptible woman because of her past.
So much so, in fact, that she was not allowed to retrieve water at the normal time of early morning as the other women of the town did, but instead was forced to do it alone at midday.
She was viewed by the village as a worthless nobody.
And then, a chance meeting with a man she had never met before radically changed her life.
It was as though she was reborn.
As a result, the transformation she experiences in encountering Jesus is so profoundly life-altering that she excitedly runs into town telling everyone she meets about her life-altering encounter:
“Come, see a man who told me everything I have ever done. Could he possibly be the Christ?”
Free, at last!
Free from all the darkness of her past.
Free from all the accusations.
Free from all the abusive comments.
Free from the daily torment of being excluded and judged and dismissed.
In fact, her joyous response to the care and kindness she received from Jesus is so life-changing, she shouts out the possibility of transformation for everyone – even to this day!
Her response to Jesus is so transforming that she in effect cries out to each one of us that, in the world we live in, “signs and wonders”, as the Gospel writer puts it, can be experienced in each of our own lives as well.
Even without the face-to-face validation this woman received, this event strongly suggests to each of us that we too can explore how Jesus can come alive in every one of our hearts – to the point of making this Lent a time of rebirth and renewal.
Remember that the Samaritans – of which she was one – were the least likely people to believe in Jesus. As a Jew, Jesus would have been seen by them as someone to be the recipient of the same kind of hatred reserved for people of another race, or political party, or church in today’s world.
And yet, as this Gospel story tells us so passionately, God is always active in our lives, and, maybe most especially, in surprising encounters with the most unexpected people – people we would deem shameful, undeserving, even contemptible.
May our prayerful response to today’s Gospel be those of the final words in this stunning story of radical conversion:
“We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”
Jesus met the woman at the well, as Peter, Paul and Mary once sang. May this Lent be a time when each of us meets him in a whole new way too.
Ted Wolgamot, Psy.D.
“Unlike John the Baptist, Jesus did not baptize. He did not feel called to save Israel by bringing everyone to a baptism of repentance in the Jordan. He decided instead that something else was necessary, something which had to do with the poor, the sinners and the sick – the ‘lost sheep of the house of Israel.’
The people to whom Jesus turned his attention are referred to in the gospels by a variety of terms: the blind, the lame, the crippled, the lepers, the hungry, the miserable (those who weep), sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors, demoniacs (those possessed by unclean spirits), the persecuted, the downtrodden, the captives, all who labor and are overburdened, the rabble who know nothing of the law, the crowds, the little ones, the last and the lost sheep of Israel.
The true history of mankind is the history of suffering – something about which one finds precious little in history books.
What about all those who suffered on account of the glorious battles of history? What about the daily sufferings of those who were oppressed when this or that king began his glorious reign?
The word ’poor’ can be extended to cover all the oppressed, and all those who are dependent upon the mercy of others …. There was no practical way out for the sinners and the poor…. The poor and the sinners were captives or prisoners. It was a dark and fearful world in which the helpless individual was threatened from all sides by hostile spirits and equally hostile people …. They are the people who don’t count.
Jesus came from the middle class. He was not by birth and upbringing one of the poor and the oppressed. What made Jesus different, even unique, was the unrestrained compassion he felt for the poor and the oppressed …. But even the word ‘compassion’ is far too weak to express the emotion that moved Jesus …. Consistently in the Gospels Jesus speaks these words: ‘he was moved with compassion or pity’, or he ’felt sorry’ or ‘his heart went out to them.’
Jesus’ vision was to set out to liberate people from every form of suffering and anguish – present and future.”
Jesus Before Christianity by Albert Nolan, O.P. (underlining mine)