today's readings are Exodus 17: 3-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5: 1-2, 5-8; John 4: 5-42
I know it was long, but this gospel is a beauty, full of surprises, with the biggest surprise happening near the beginning of our story. Now I can see the looks on your faces asking, “Surprises, what surprises?” Which is understandable if you don’t know much of the cultural and historical realities of the Middle Eastern world 2000 years ago.
So, let me explain. Surprise #1 – the heroine of our gospel? A Samaritan woman – and not just any Samaritan woman – she is bold, she is curious, she is brash – and oh man, does she have a past. Which then leads to the second surprise - Jesus has no problems speaking with her – that was a big no-no in the Middle Eastern world of that time. A man would never, ever speak to an unaccompanied woman in a public setting. But Jesus does.
Did you notice her response? She is surprised. And not just because Jesus is talking with her, but the fact that He is Jewish and she is a Samaritan. You see, for over 500 hundred years the Samaritans and the Jews had despised each other. But Jesus doesn’t despise her – even though she is a Samaritan, and even though she has a past that has been rather tumultuous. For she has been doing her own King Henry VIII imitation – 5 spouses already, and now living common-law with number 6. As a result of that, she is persona non grata in her own town – the object of much scorn, particularly from the other women of the town – proven by the fact that she is at the well at noon-time – as she would know that all the other women would have been at the well much earlier in the day, to avoid the mid-day heat.
It is at the well that Jesus encounters her. And Jesus not only spends time with her, but in a carefully orchestrated, seven-part dialogue, He guides her progressively from ignorance to enlightenment, from misunderstanding to a very clear understanding. Did you notice the way she changes the title with which she addresses Jesus? She starts with “Jew” (sneeringly said),” then “sir”, then “prophet,” then “Messiah”. One scriptural commentator said that the Samaritan woman is the most carefully and intensely evangelized person in the gospels. Fortified with the truth she has received she goes into the Samaritan town to tell them about Jesus. The result? The entire town is evangelized because of her, as they proclaim that Jesus is the “Saviour of the world.”.
Let’s go back to our lady. In the time and the culture that she lived in, she had much against her. First, she’s a woman in an extremely patriarchal society – that’s strike one – secondly, she’s a Samaritan – strike two – and thirdly, her many relationships with men made her a pariah in her hometown – strike 3. She should have been out of there. But Jesus doesn’t care about the rules of baseball. All He sees standing before Him is a child of God. A child of God who is just as worthy of being saved as anyone else. And so, He does.
By the way, did you notice how Jesus initiates the encounter - by asking her for a drink? That’s the biggest surprise of our story – that He – the Saviour of the World – would ask her, the resident pariah – for help. Jesus asked her for help. And when His disciples arrived, did you notice how taken back they were when they saw Jesus and the woman talking? “You? With her? – aww – err - eee!” But Jesus says, “It’s all good – and just watch what she’s going to do – she’ll bring everyone in the town to me – and by the way, how many people have you been bringing to me lately?”
Jesus asked her for help. Let’s fast forward to here and now. Do you ever think of the fact that Jesus asks you for help? He does. Now you may think that there is no way He is reaching out to you. Well, consider that he asked the Samaritan woman for help. Considering her past, if He is willing to ask her, He is definitely asking you. He asks for your help in all kinds of ways, and through all kinds of different people and circumstances in your life. Your being here on earth is not by chance. It is by design – His design. For the Lord has had plans for you – ever since the day you were conceived.
What plans, you ask? 450 years ago, St. Teresa of Avila gave us the answer:
Christ has no body now on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ must look out on the world. Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which He is to bless His people.
And by the way, what St. Teresa so wonderfully shared isn’t just my task – it isn’t just Deacon Gerry’s task – it’s what He demands of each and every single person here - to be the feet and the hands and the eyes and the heart of Jesus – even in the most ordinary circumstances of our lives. That’s what we do when we continue to become the person God wants us to be. To be His hands, His feet, His heart.
It’s true - Jesus needs you - and He is calling you. Will you answer?