Reflection on the Third Sunday of Lent
I like the Samaritan woman. And I like Jesus as she encountered him. I like Jesus’ interactions with the women of the Gospels. They reveal Jesus as very human, deeply compassionate, modified by others. Have you ever asked yourself what kinds of women Jesus was drawn to? Why he chose to approach and interact with the women he did? I think Jesus enjoyed the Samaritan woman. But it would have been in keeping with social norms for him simply to ignore her.
The Gospels — the stories of the Good News — host a great lineup of women: this woman of Samaria, Mary Magdalene, the widow of Naim, the bent-over women, Veronica, the woman who touched Jesus’ cloak seeking healing, the poor widow who had only pennies to give. The woman who poured costly oil on Jesus’ feet — anointing him for death. The Syro-Phonician woman claiming a right to the scraps from the table. The woman being stoned. Martha and Mary. It’s an incredibly rich and diverse bunch of women. And the list goes on. Many of them are so marginalized in biblical culture that they have no names.
Some approached Jesus and initiated interaction with him. With others, it was Jesus who started the conversation. Some he simply observed — and like the widow and her mite — loved from a distance.
What they have in common, I think, is a great deal of integrity — an amazing kind of honesty. A commitment to continue on in life’s struggle no matter how tough the going got. They don’t give up. They know who they are and what they are. They don’t hide it. They know what they need and ask for it. They are open to things becoming different. They are open to Jesus because they know hunger for the heart for God. Jesus is attracted to that. Such is the Samaritan woman — honest and open.
The women are also teachers. In his youth Jesus may have learned from the rabbis — the official teachers of Jewish faith. In his adulthood he learned from the household rabbis — the women. From them he learned that there are no boundaries — geographical, religious or cultural — to his mission and ministry, to the care and compassion of God, to God’s love.
Jesus learns from women like the Samaritan woman and the Syro-Phonecian women that the kingdom of God is borderless. They change Jesus. The women teach him to grow his heart. To suffer for others. To give up his life in love. They teach him what he needs as his life and mission unfolds. As he faces his death. He takes them where they are and they are able to, in turn, accept him for who he is. And so there is mutual growth. Such a teacher is the Samaritan woman.
The women “get” Jesus. Out of their own lives, their own pain and suffering, their own existence on the outskirts of their communities — they are drawn to this wandering preacher without the hesitancy and the doubt and the misunderstanding and the fear so often shown by the apostles. They don’t ask for power or wealth or position in the kingdom. They ask for healing, for the water and the life he gives. They ask for belonging — in the communities that have forced them to the outside. For reconciliation, restoration, life. Such, too, is the Samaritan woman.
She lives in a desert country, and she’s at the well at noon. She’s not there in the early morning to join in the gossip of the town women — she knows that she is the likely topic of their gossip. She knows she makes them uncomfortable — all those husbands. She causes scandal. She also knows the story of her people — the heritage of Jacob and his well. The long history of animosity and hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans. She knows that, in the “normal” flow of things, Jesus should not be speaking to her, should not be asking her, Samaritan and woman, for water. That he absolutely should not take water from her bucket. From her hand. But he does ask. She knows that in the “normal” course of things she should not be asking him for his water. But she does ask. That’s another characteristic of the women Jesus engages. There is no passivity about them.
With the women Jesus engages in an eye-level ministry — a mutuality where both give, both receive, both are transformed. IATW tells us that we learn from those to whom we are sent. That’s just as Jesus did.
Is she curious? Definitely. Is he? Or did he just want a drink? Did her curiosity fuel his? She invites him into conversation. The Samaritan woman listens to him. But he listens to her. A mutuality of ministry. When the Apostles return, they take in the scene and, and even though they want to know what is going on they say nothing. Oftentimes the presence of women seems to unsettle the Apostles — make them uncomfortable. The Samaritan woman does.
She will draw him water from the well of her ancestors. He promises her living water not dependent on a centuries-old cistern. Worship not bound by the geography of temple and mountain. And she asks for that water. But he also asks her to call her husband, and she shares with him the reality of her life: “I have no husband.” Without condemning, without judging, Jesus breaks open the brokenness of her life: “What you say is true. You have had five husbands, and the man you are now with is not your husband.” And then she goes away — not humiliated, but believing — excited even filled with living water. And she goes — not home, hiding in shame, but into the village proper announcing the messiah. She has been restored to belonging. The townspeople hear her. And so others also come to believe. She gives what she has received. They go to the well and receive Water.
We, too, are offered Jesus’ living water. Lent is a time for us to stand at Jacob’s well and to face honestly the brokenness and the shame that hide in our lives. To seek reconciliation and restoration — for ourselves, for our community and for our world. We are called to be Samaritan women. To give what we have received.