You can see all the lectionary readings for the Third Sunday of Lent, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss only the Gospel reading.
This week’s gospel lesson is another time Jesus is speaking to just one person, though it leads to him teaching to a whole town.
An important aspect of this story is that Jesus and his disciples are in Samaria (you may remember it from the story of the Good Samaritan). There are very few Samaritans left, fewer than 800 according to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samaritans). They have a religion apparently very similar to Judaism, but different enough that they could not agree and would not accept each other at all at the time of this story. From what I have read, nowadays they are seen as a sect of Judaism rather than a group of unacceptable heretics. But at the time of this story, they were very much outsiders to the other Jewish people and the two groups did not get along well. That’s why the parable of the Good Samaritan would have been shocking at the time—that the one who was good was an unacceptable Samaritan.
Well, this event involves an even more unacceptable Samaritan—a woman who was apparently promiscuous. She was not the kind of person a Jewish teacher like Jesus would be expected to even deign to speak to, but of course he did not do what was expected of him. He caused scandals in all the best ways. So in the scripture he comes to a well called Jacob’s well (Jacob was a forefather of the Jewish and the Samaritan people). Jesus is tired so he sits down beside the well. The Samaritan comes up to the well and Jesus asks her for a drink (meanwhile his followers were off in town buying food). She is surprised that he would even speak to her as he is a Jew and she is a Samaritan woman (like I said, it would have been shocking). He responds, “You don’t know what God can give you. And you don’t know who I am, the one who asked you for a drink. If you knew, you would have asked me, and I would have given you living water.” Dude. That had to be heavy and confusing.
She asks how he’s going to get living water since he doesn’t have any way to get it out of the well. She name-drops Jacob (no really, I think that might be what she was doing) and says, “Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob? He is the one who gave us this well. He drank from it himself, and his sons and all his animals drank from it too.”
Jesus, being his awesome and sometimes cryptic self, answers, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again. But anyone who drinks the water I give will never be thirsty again. The water I give people will be like a spring flowing inside them. It will bring them eternal life.” Of course she is down with that idea. She says, “Sir, give me this water. Then I will never be thirsty again and won’t have to come back here to get more water.” I don’t think she’s getting the symbolism—she just wants some convenient never-ending water.
Jesus tells her to get her husband; she says she has no husband. Then Jesus lowers the boom on her, “You are right to say you have no husband. That’s because, although you have had five husbands, the man you live with now is not your husband. That much was the truth.” Woah. I’ve read some commentary on this passage that the reason she was the only one at the well at that time is that most people came another time of day (like in the cool of the morning) but she was an outcast so she came when no one else would be around. You can only imagine that having had five husbands and living with some other guy was not cool in some small town in Samaria.
Then she goes from name-dropping to trying to spin some theology on him: “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain. But you Jews say that Jerusalem is the place where people must worship.” So she’s trying to get into the whole Jews vs. Samaritan issue.
Then Jesus goes deeper and good luck with this bit: “Believe me, woman! The time is coming when you will not have to be in Jerusalem or on this mountain to worship the Father. You Samaritans worship something you don’t understand. We Jews understand what we worship, since salvation comes from the Jews. But the time is coming when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. In fact, that time is now here. And these are the kind of people the Father wants to be his worshipers. God is spirit. So the people who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Don’t even ask me to explain all that–except to say what I mainly get from it is that these petty issues are meaningless next to real truth and the kingdom of God–but I get the next part.
The woman says that when the Messiah comes he will explain everything. Jesus says, “He is talking to you now—I am the Messiah.” BOOM.
Then Jesus’ disciples come back and are surprised to see him talking to the woman. And the woman leaves her water jar and runs back to town to tell everyone there about Jesus. She must be convincing because then the people come out to the well to see Jesus.
Jesus is still in his super-deep mood because while she is gone his friends try to get him to eat and he says, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” Wow, he is dropping the bombs left and right.
This part is kind of funny because the followers are asking each other, “Did someone already bring him some food?” They are clueless.
And he says, “My food is to do what the one who sent me wants me to do. My food is to finish the work that he gave me to do. When you plant, you always say, ‘Four more months to wait before we gather the grain.’ But I tell you, open your eyes, and look at the fields. They are ready for harvesting now.” I think he is thinking of the people who are coming to see him, and many more people who will turn to him.
The scripture goes on to say that many people in that Samaritan town believed in Jesus because of the woman who came and told them about him. They go to him and asked him to stay longer, so he stays two days. They say to the woman, “First we believed in Jesus because of what you told us. But now we believe because we heard him ourselves. We know now that he really is the one who will save the world.” I love this–it’s how the kingdom of God works; first we hear tell about a God who loves us, then we come to experience God’s love firsthand and we pass it on to others. That’s the Gospel at work.