3rd Sunday of Lent
And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Roman 5:5)
The incident in today’s Gospel of the encounter between the Lord and this Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well was something divinely decreed. For the woman, it was likely seen as a chance encounter with a Jewish man looking for a drink of water. But for the Lord, it was a fulfillment of the Father’s eternal will decreed for the salvation of this one soul and for the enlightenment of countless others who would hear of it through the ages. The encounter touches this woman’s heart, and, at the same time, it reveals a good deal about the Messiah and the purpose of the messianic mission in all its power. Jesus strangely reveals to this woman that He is the Messiah, “I am he, the one speaking with you.” And he reveals to her and to us (1) that He has come to transform the very way that mankind is to relate to the true God and (2) just how man is to worship the true God according to God’s own will.
One cannot really understand the significance of this little encounter with the Samaritan woman, and why it was recounted in such length by John the Evangelist, unless one is open to the truth that the Christian religion surpasses and fulfills every other form of religion in this world. It is indeed a sign of the times in our day that Christians are often made to feel uneasy, perhaps even embarrassed, by any such absolute claim that Christianity is the divinely established religion for all of mankind and that Jesus Christ is the sole mediator and sole source of salvation for the whole human race. Because we live today in a world that tends to reduce religious truth to a purely subjective matter of opinion, any such absolute claim strikes many of our contemporaries, non-Christian and even some Christians, as offensive and divisive, undemocratic, and on that basis alone, unfounded.
Nonetheless Jesus makes just such claims in today’s Gospel, and one is forced therefore either to accept what He says as truth, or reject Him along with his teaching. For instance, the “living water” that Jesus says he has come to give us makes a claim regarding the absolute superiority of His revelation and the other gifts he brings to mankind over every other form of human religion and worship of God. It is precisely here that the significance of the woman’s nationality fits in to the picture. She is a Samaritan, and to a Jew she represents all Samaritans and thus a kind of semi-pagan at best. For the Jews considered Samaritans to be apostates and heretics, legally impure, semi-pagan, comparable to all the surrounding pagan nations and their religions. Thus for the Gospel of John she represents, at least partially, every pagan form of religion in this world.
It’s also interesting that Jesus even speaks with this woman, which seems to be breaking a custom for a Jew, and then He tells her of a “living water” that He can give her, something much purer and far more refreshing than the stagnant water she has come to draw from Jacob’s well. Now, Jacob was the father of both the Jews and the Samaritans, and thus the stagnant water in Jacob’s well represents for Jesus the condition not only of the apostate religion of the Samaritans, but by extension also the stagnation of the religion of many Jews. That is the significance of Jesus statement that the time is coming when men will worship the Father neither on this mountain in Samaria nor in Jerusalem. The water Jesus is bringing surpasses in power all the religions of this world, including the truly revealed religion of the Jews, from whom salvation indeed does come, as Jesus forthrightly affirms here.
Now just as natural water is absolutely necessary for man’s physical life, so the “living water” that Jesus speaks about here represents the life-giving grace that flows in the Messianic Kingdom with all of its supernatural power to transform man from within. This water, this supernatural, life giving gift, is a living, flowing source of grace that transforms the person into a true worshiper, who worships God in Spirit and in Truth, precisely because it transforms the person into a child of the living God. Flowing water in nature is water that is always being renewed, and likewise the grace that Jesus brings constantly renews the life of divine adoption and transforms the recipient so that he or she can worship God as God desires. The Christian can do this because he is a creature living “in the Spirit,” and thus is guided by the truth revealed by the Word of God. This Word, with the Father and the Spirit, already lives, here and now, within the child of God.
The absolute greatness of this new, living water of divine Grace is made clear when Jesus says that whoever drinks this water “will never be thirsty again.” Even the water of the Old Covenant, its revealed truth, could only sporadically and partially satisfy man’s religious aspirations, but it could never totally satisfy man’s deep thirst for God. Only with the truth and the grace that Jesus brings into the world, the “living water” of His Spirit, can a person aspire to the final fulfillment of his desire for God.
As already stated, the Grace of the Spirit already makes us God’s children, here and now, intimately sharing God’s own life. But one day, in heaven, our thirst for God will be totally, superabundantly fulfilled when we see God face to face and fully enter into His Divine Life and Happiness forever. In heaven that “living water” will fulfill its inherent power and promise of Eternal happiness, and man’s thirst for God will be quenched forever. That is what St. Paul means when he says in our second reading today, “And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. In Truth, the “living water” Jesus speaks about is the Holy Spirit, who dwells in our hearts as the living and ever-renewing fount of all Graces which draw us closer and closer to God.
We learn all this from the Gospels, that our adoption by God as his true children is effected by Jesus placing the very source of this Life, the very fount itself of this new, Life, Sanctifying Grace, within our human soul, so that this new life can be constantly renewed from within, and at last be carried up to everlasting Life in Heaven. It is this presence of the very source of Divine Life within man, the Holy Spirit, that enables man to become an authentic worshiper of God, one who worships God, literally, in the Spirit, and according to the Truth planted in our souls, which makes the soul itself like a fountain that springs up to worship God eternally.
Jesus has come, then, to bring this Messianic water, to plant His Spirit and His Truth within the human soul, and He tells his disciples at the well in Samaria that day that the time is now ripe for the harvest. He plants the seed of the Spirit and, immediately, the fields become fertile, ready for the Harvest. The sowing and reaping are almost simultaneous, as we see when the whole town comes out and many are immediately converted to faith in Jesus. Here too the divine superiority of the Messianic faith is manifested by the suddenness of the harvest, which is made possible only because the living water, planted by Jesus, the Spirit, has such powers to transform man from within.
What this all means for us and for our world should be clear. The fact that this living water is a permanent gift to the Church, and the fact that it has such power to transform mankind always gives hope to our world, that no matter how bad things may become, there is always the hope of a true renewal of the face of the earth – that is why we can pray Come Holy Spirit… renew the face of the earth. Because of this fount, planted in the midst of this world, within the Church and in individual human hearts, there is always hope for the human race, for the transformation of human hearts and thus for the renewal of the face of the earth.
And, it is this same Spirit who can renew each of this Lent, if we but allow Him to be the fount of living water springing up within us; to be the life-giving fount that enables us to be purified by our Lenten discipline; to be the fount who alone enables us to truly worship God in Spirit and Truth, as God’s true sons and daughters; the fount that will finally bring us home so that at last we will never thirst again.