March 12, Third Sunday of Lent
Exodus 17:3-7, Romans 5:1-2, 5-8, John 4:5-42
The Gospels are full of narratives of Jesus interacting with all kinds of people. He taught His disciples, called out the Pharisees, and delivered sermons to multitudes. But His longest conversation with a single person is found in the Gospel of John, when the Lord had a lengthy discourse with a Samaritan woman.
This encounter is unique in many ways.
Firstly, she is a Samaritan. Jews, of which Jesus is one, and Samaritans had a long history of hatred against each other. At that time, it was common for them to avoid interacting with one another.
Secondly, when the woman approached the Well of Jacob to fetch water, the Lord said: “Give me a drink.” (John 4:7). With the long-standing feud between their two factions, eating and drinking together was considered taboo. But here is Jesus, casually requesting a Samaritan woman for water. With this, the Lord begins to teach her about the Living Water that quenches thirst forever.
This piques the curiosity of the Samaritan and immediately she begs the Lord for this water. Jesus asks her to call her husband, and the woman states she does not have one. At this moment, Jesus begins to demonstrate His power. He sees through the woman and tells her that she has had five husbands and is currently having a relationship out of wedlock.
The Samaritan realizes she is speaking with an actual prophet and promptly explains how they worship differently compared to Jews: “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.” (John 4:20) Jesus replies by saying that time will come when God will be worshiped beyond those two places. And unlike them, the Jews “understands what they worship” because “salvation is from the Jews,” (John 4:21-22), further cementing their vast contrast in faith.
But Jesus did not leave the conversation in that gap. He creates a bridge, saying “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him.” (John 4:23)
The woman then talks about the foretold Messiah, whom both Jews and Samaritans believe will come and bring salvation. In the most unexpected way, Jesus reveals to her: “I am He, the one speaking with you.” (John 4:26) When the woman left Him, she goes into the town and tells everyone about her encounter with the supposed Messiah. Her testimony spreads quickly, and Jesus gains many Samaritan believers that day.
Jesus telling the woman in the most straightforward way about Him being the Christ is very much unlike Him, at least in His dealing with Jews. In Matthew 9:30, He told the two blind men He healed to make sure that “no one knows about it.” In Mark 1:44, He advised the leper to “say nothing to anyone” after cleaning him. In a practical sense, Jesus did so to avoid attracting overly huge crowds which could limit his movement from one place to another. In a cultural sense, it is quite easy for Him to relate to His fellow Jews since they are already one in faith and tradition.
This goes differently for the Samaritans. As a Jew, He was considered an outcast to their society. He will never be one of them. But the Lord’s love and mercy transcends everything, and these historical barriers did not stop Him from reaching out to them. But He must do so using a different approach. Therefore, in just one conversation with a woman, He showed that He did not mind drinking from their cup, proved His gift as a prophet, and proudly declared His identity as the Messiah.
These simple yet powerful gestures by Christ teach us that love and compassion must not be limited to our families and friends. Just like how His mercy overflows even to the lost and evildoers, we must also embrace our enemies and strangers who require care and kindness. After all, “while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
Of course, this is easier said than done. But the Responsorial Psalm gently nudges us towards the right path: “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” Once we have received His Word, we are obligated to do good in everything we do. Our love is only superficial if we refuse to come out of our comfort zones and enter the circles of discomfort. Here we have Christ, who sets an enduring example by doing the unthinkable and perhaps the unacceptable just prove that His love knows no boundaries.
Sacrificing a bit of ourselves in extending our merciful hand to our neighbor is one of our noble duties as Christians. We may lose something when going out of our way to serve others. But in doing so, we are assured of a piece of heaven on earth that nothing can ever replace.
Radio Veritas Asia (RVA), a media platform of the Catholic Church, aims to share Christ. RVA started in 1969 as a continental Catholic radio station to serve Asian countries in their respective local language, thus earning the tag “the Voice of Asian Christianity.” Responding to the emerging context, RVA embraced media platforms to connect with the global Asian audience via its 21 language websites and various social media platforms.