“Is the Lord in our midst or not”, the Israelites challenged Moses in the first reading. It is a question that may come to our minds when we feel anxious, lonely or lost, observe wars and natural disasters, and face debilitating disease or senseless tragedies, or the quietness of aging. Jesus answers the question in the Gospel reading as he patiently and gently leads the Samaritan woman, mired in sin, on a journey to conversion and new life in Him
Her journey is a model for each of us as we continue our quest for greater holiness, a daily task. First he used the occasion of the water that she drew from the well to uncover the desire in her for greater peace and a fuller meaning to life. Then by asking her to call her husband he helped her to acknowledge her sinfulness, her need for redemption. Then by relating to her all she had done in her past life he helped her open her eyes to see beyond herself and recognize him to be the promised Messiah, God in her midst. Then inspired by this awesome revelation she witnessed her discovery to others, moving from self-absorbed sinner to evangelist for the Lord. There are several interesting parts to their conversation that we might reflect on this Lent.
First, Jesus told her: “if you knew the gift of God and the one who is speaking to you, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” Living water had a practical meaning for her. Living water was that which comes from wells fed by springs which retained its purity rather than water gathered in cisterns that over time would become stagnant. Through the living waters of baptism, the living truth expressed through his Church, and the living presence of our Lord, body and blood, soul and divinity in the Holy Eucharist, Jesus offers the ever living and flowing grace that will never go stagnant. Only Jesus can satisfy our spiritual thirst, our yearning for meaning as he did for the woman at the well.
Then, Jesus asked her: “Call your husband.” “I don’t have one,” she answered. She played rhetorical sleight of hand. “You have had five and are living with someone else now,” he reminds her. We do that sometimes, to ourselves or others, selectively spin the facts that might embarrass us. Yet we cannot hide anything from God; it is a simple and profound truth. When I was growing up, the great singer Mahalia Jackson recorded a gospel song that repeats over and over again the words: “Jesus met the woman at the well and told her everything she had done. Jesus met the woman at the well and told her everything she had done.” We cannot hide what we have done from God, judgment day will come, but we need not fear for he wants us to come to him for healing, for peace and for a new beginning.
Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan women is hopeful and helpful for us because by his engaging with her he declares that it is not too late for us. We still can open our hearts more fully to him and he will give us this living water that quenches spiritual thirst and sustains in times of personal draught. To do so, however, requires honesty and humility. It comes with the price of turning away from sin and turning toward him and following him wherever he leads.
Yet we hesitate, hedge our bets, hold back. We aren’t quite ready to let go of the familiar of the world, our seeming comforts, and do what it takes to make the changes in our lives we know are necessary. We want to but just not yet. Only by acknowledging our need for God can we open ourselves to the one who died on the cross for us out of enduring love and who can reassure us in those times of anguish when we wonder if God is in our midst or not. Lent can help us confront our hesitation.
Jesus in noting the woman’s past and present gives her the chance to confront it. In response she begins to see beyond herself, her narrow world and note the one before her. “I can see you are a prophet.” That is an essential part of a journey of conversion, when we move from an unhealthy and unhappy preoccupation with ourselves to openness to Christ and recognition of how much we truly thirst for him. Lent encourages us to not put off confronting our sins and failures and to discover the joy of knowing Jesus Christ.
There was a country song a few years ago called “Roses for Momma.” It told of a man in a florist shop ordering roses to be sent to his mother on Mother’s Day. He knows he should visit her, but he had other plans. In the shop there also is a little boy who wants to buy some roses for his mother but lacks enough money to do so. The man gives the boy enough money. As he drives out of town, the man passes a cemetery and notices the little boy entering with his roses. He stops, goes in and finds the little one kneeling at a grave. The boy explains that his mother died a year ago, that he comes here often to talk with her, and on special days he brings flowers. The man, deeply moved, goes back to the florist and asks if his order had been sent out yet. When the florist tells him no, he says: “I want to deliver them to my mom myself.” There are some things that ought not to be put off. As someone said, “you cannot repent too soon because you do not know how soon it may be too late.”
Finally, when Christ revealed himself to the woman, she could not keep it to herself. She felt moved to share her discovery with others: “Come and see him, for he told me everything I had done,” she invited the townspeople. That is what the new evangelization is about: sharing the joy of our personal encounter with Christ with others that they too may experience our joy and the freedom that comes with putting behind us our forgiven past and look forward with hope by following Christ.
There is still time for us to with humble hearts ask him for living water; in response he will give us himself. Then we will no longer wonder if the Lord is in our midst. We will know that he is because we know Him personally as our redeemer and Savior of the world.