It is good to take note of the context of the story of the woman at the well, so that we will be able to understand the Gospel story more fully. The first point to take note of is that when this woman was talking to Jesus at the well, she was living with the sixth man of her life and perhaps, other than the first man, the rest were not her husband. Second, because of her way of living, she was an outcast of her community; no body wanted to associate with her for fear of being influenced by her immoral living. And that was probably why she had to fetch water in the heat of the mid-day sun, instead of the coolness of the early morning hours, as she had to avoid the crowd who is condemning her for her lifestyle. Third, for the Jews, a man was not allowed to speak to another woman in public, including one’s wife or daughter.
It was in all these surrounding circumstances that Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus was probably tired and thirsty and was taking a rest from all his walking and preaching of the whole morning. So, He asked the Samaritan woman, “Give me a drink.” The Samaritan woman immediately answered Him, “What? You are a Jew and you ask me, a Samaritan, for a drink?” Jews in fact, do not associate with Samaritans. Jesus replied: “If you only knew what God is offering and who it is that is saying to you: Give me a drink, you would have been the one to ask, and He would have given you living water.” . . . Jesus then added, “Whoever drinks this water will get thirsty again; but anyone who drinks the water that I shall give will never be thirsty again: the water that I shall give will turn into spring inside him, welling up to eternal life.” ‘Sir,” said the woman, ‘give me some of that water, so that I may never get thirsty again.”
The one striking point from this story is to see that God never gives up on us! Regardless of how sinful and unworthy we may be, His Compassionate love will always reach out to us with gentleness and generosity. Let us remember that the Samaritan woman was a sinner who was cut off from her community; no woman, let alone any man would go near her for fear of being contaminated by her immoral living. Yet, Jesus makes a very scandalous move to begin a conversation and establishes a rapport with her. In reaching out to her, Jesus was not only non-judgmental, but was very respectful of her dignity which at that moment was in tatters. Jesus offers her the “Living Water” that will quench her thirst for all eternity. Being shocked by Jesus’ Loving Compassion, the Samaritan woman experiences a deep conversion of heart and accepts with great joy Jesus’ offer of salvation.
If we reflect on our lives for a moment, we will realise that we are each far from being perfect. But, if we reflect more deeply, we will become more aware of how we have offended God in so many ways during our lifetime. If God wanted to be strictly just, He could rightly be angry with us and even punish us for the many times that we have wronged Him, and caused so much pain and division in the lives of people, and have also failed to do the much needed good to others and lack the gratitude we ought to have shown Him in our lives. Yet, as in today’s Gospel, in the way Jesus relates to the Samaritan woman at the well, we know that God is ever compassionate and His love for us is unconditional and most forgiving.
While some of us in our judgmental ways may consider ourselves to be less of a sinner than the Samaritan woman, it is important to note that the saving grace of the Samaritan woman was her openness of heart and her eager receptivity to Jesus’ offer of the “Living Water.”
Concretely, this means that regardless of how sinful we may each be, our first challenge is to be open to Jesus’ invitation to accept His healing graces for our sinfulness. Like the Samaritan woman, we have to be humble enough to admit that we do have sins and we each need God’s forgiveness. Only then will we be able to drink the “Living Water” that will quench our thirst for the spiritual fulfillment that we all long for in life. To allow Jesus, the “Living Water” to refresh and purify us, is to experience a radical freedom of heart that frees us from all fears in our lives. This was precisely what the Samaritan woman experienced.
When she said “Yes” to Jesus’ offer of the “Living Water” she experienced a total transformation in her heart and her fears and shame of coming into contact with her community disappeared. Upon hearing Jesus’ prophetic insights into her immoral living, she accepts the truth and thus the forgiving love of Jesus, and rushes to her community to testify courageously what had happened to her. She was able to do this because the graces of her conversion of heart were greater than her fears and shame.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, God never gives up on us. As Jesus reached out to the Samaritan woman at the well, He too is constantly reaching out to us to offer us the “Living Water” that will quench all our deepest thirst and desires of our lives. We know that in St Augustine’s search for meaning and fulfillment in his life, he eventually found God in his heart and said, “Lord, my soul is restless until it rests in Thee.” It was in finding God and putting Him at the centre of his life that St Augustine found true peace and freedom; joy and fulfillment; and the “Living Spring” welling up from within his heart.
We are truly very blessed to have a God who is so compassionate that like Jesus relating to the Samaritan woman; He will never give up on us. And because of His deep Compassion, even as He could have rightly and justly punished us for our sins, He continues to hold back His Justice, and instead show His Compassionate and unconditional Love for us. St Augustine says, “For the past, trust in God’s Mercy; for the present, live in His Love; and for the future, allow His Providence to determine the outcome of our lives.”
Can we find ourselves doing this during this Lenten season and the months to come? If we can, we will experience what the “Living Water” of Jesus that quenches our thirsts means. But, if we can’t and still insist on living our faith without challenging ourselves to grow for the better, then perhaps, this poem may touch our hearts.
It’s just a good thing God above
has never gone on strike,
because He wasn’t treated fair
for the things He didn’t like.
If He had once sat down
and said, “That is it, I’m through!
I’ve had enough of those on earth.
So, this is what I’ll do.
“I’ll give orders to the sun.
‘Cut off your heat supply.’
And to the moon, ‘Give no more light’
and run the oceans dry.
Then just to make things really tough
and put the pressure on,
I’ll turn off air and oxygen
till every breath is gone.
Do you know, God would be justified
if fairness was the game,
for no one has been more abused
or treated with disdain
than God – and yet He carries on
supplying you and me
with all the favours of His grace
and everything for free.
Men say they want a better deal,
and so on strike they go.
But what a deal we’ve given God
for everything we owe.
We don’t care who we hurt or harm
to gain the things we like.
But, what a mess we would all be in
if God should go on strike.
(Ref: “Happiness Manufacturers,” by Hedwig Lewis, S.J.Gujarat Sahitya Prakash: 2001; pages 9-10.)
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
visitors since 27 March 2011