This homily for the Third Sunday of Lent is based on John 4:5-42.
Today’s Gospel gives us a strange little story. Jesus stops by a well while his disciples are off doing errands, and a Samaritan woman emerges to draw some water from the well. She probably eyes him cautiously. “A Jew,” she warns herself, quickly looking away. And then just when she least expects it, she hears the stranger address her: “Give me a drink.”
A modern reader like myself is shocked. “Really, Lord? Not even a ‘please’?” To our ears, Jesus’ statement grates like a terse command. The Samaritan woman is also shocked–but for an entirely different reason. She looks at Jesus and asks, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?”
You see, at that time, due to their religious disagreements, Jews kept away from Samaritans for fear that they would be contaminated. But here Jesus breaks that cultural barrier, shocking the woman. So, how could he? Well, it’s the kind of thing the Lord does: break down walls.
A lot more goes on in this story, and so much more can be said, but I’m stuck with the Samaritan woman’s question. I’m stuck because it is a familiar question, a question similar to different versions of a question I’ve heard myself ask the Lord countless of times: “How can you, the Son of God, ask me, a sinner for…?”
The feeling is probably best described as a mix of incredulity and awe. It’s hard to believe someone like Jesus would ask me–of all people–for something. Yet that’s what the Lord does. He counts on us to do the work and to make the difference. Remember, the first thing he did when he launched his public ministry was to recruit disciples. He didn’t need to, when you think about it. He could have done the whole thing all by his omnipotent self, but he chose otherwise. His reason for doing so has more to do with us than with him. It’s our need that he’s thinking of–our own need for salvation, our own need to be part of something greater, our own need to have to make the free choice to be part of that.
That’s exactly what happens in his conversation with the Samaritan woman. By asking her for a drink, what he has in mind is not his own need, but hers: her need for living water, the kind that only he can furnish.
So today is a good time to ask ourselves: “What is the Lord asking from me?” It may be some kind of project that can help other people. Or it may be as simple as reaching out to someone around us whose life is submerged in loneliness and pain. Or it may be as simple as just making the right choices in our lives.
Realizing what the Lord asks of us, perhaps we can feel our hearts brim over with incredulity and awe, and we too may ask him, “How can you, my Lord, ask me, a sinner, for something like this?” But remember, whenever the Lord asks us for something, what he has in his mind is our own need.