Third Sunday of Lent
Reflection by Garrett Mandeville - Associate Director, ACE Advocates
The woman at the well is a familiar Gospel story. We all know how it goes: Jesus, on a hot day, is thirsty, and he needs something to drink. Simple enough, but there is a profundity here that begs deeper reflection. Tangibly expressing the universality of Christ’s love, this Gospel passage is fundamentally about unity in Christ.
The clearest example of this is how Jesus treats isolated groups. This story reads as if it were a textbook for how to break unjust social prejudices. Jesus chooses to approach a Samaritan at the well. One breach of conduct isn’t enough here: it is not just a Samaritan, but a promiscuous Samaritan woman. The disciples are so dumbfounded that they are unable to speak when they come upon this scene.
As stratified as this society was, I can think of clear examples from my own life in which I have ignored, avoided or written off groups or individuals. The love of Christ and his ability to work outside of the tiny boxes in which I try to confine Him never cease to amaze me. Christ calls us directly towards fellowship in these situations. The woman at the well embodies Christ working in unexpected ways.
The second example of unity in this passage comes from Christ’s description of the harvest of eternal life. Typically, there is a disconnect between the initial and final parts of the harvest. In gathering crops for eternal life, Christ calls for the reaper and the sower to rejoice together, saying “I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the work, and you are sharing the fruits of their work.” Jesus and the Samaritan woman exemplify this. After meeting Jesus, she returns to the town to share this good news. She sows the seeds, and many Samaritans came to believe because of her testimony. They come to Jesus, who reaps what she sowed. The disciples serve as mere witnesses; it is the Samaritan woman who rejoices with Jesus in this harvest. Jesus invites us to enter into this process together, celebrating the rich fruits of Christ and sharing them with others.
These examples are anchored by another kind of unity: that of Christ’s divinity and humanity. I love how palpably this passage reveals Jesus’ humanity. Jesus is tired. He’s thirsty. With the sun beating down on him, he just wants something to drink. The last thing he is worried about is from whom he gets the water in this well. Yet in this moment, the abrupt collision between Jesus’ humanity and divinity come into focus. He asks the woman to quench his transitory need for water while he offers her a permanent respite from her spiritual thirst.
Christ’s humanity and divinity align in the way that he fearlessly and intentionally flips societal norms. Jesus, savior of the world, in a moment of solitude, does not just interact with a Samaritan; he asks a Samaritan woman for help. Simply being alone with her would have caused people to make some unflattering assumptions. Yet he comes to her. In asking for this drink, he quells her thirst. As the sacred and the mundane come together, it is Jesus at the well, offering us the cup of eternal salvation found in Him. What we do with this offer is up to us.
In this Lenten season and in all times of spiritual thirst, may we look for Christ’s face even in unexpected places; may we seek unity rather than division, and may we strive to quench our thirst with living water found in God’s limitless love.