Jesus came to a town of Samaria called Sychar… Jacob’s well was there. Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well… A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (Jn 4:5-7)
There are some conversations in the biblical narrative that will strike us as strange or humorous. For instance, in St. John’s Gospel presentation of the Multiplication of the Loaves after Jesus inquires quite wittily as to how with little funds and in a remote place they are to buy enough food to feed five thousand people, Andrew responds: “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?” (Jn 6:9). First of all, why would one boy have five loaves and two fish and no one else there have even the equivalent of an ancient middle-eastern granola bar? Second, why would Andrew even bring this up as relevant since he clearly believes it provides no solution? More is at play here. We cannot put it past Our Lord to have prompted a boy to show up with loaves and fishes on that day just as on another day he prompts “bystanders” to lend Him a colt for trotting into Jerusalem (Mk 11:4-6).
Today we hear from St. John how the Samaritan woman says to Jesus who has just offered her “living water”, “Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where then can you get this living water? (Jn 4:11) Now bible scholars claim that the Samaritan woman interprets the phrase “living water” as “flowing water”. Fair enough, but if the cistern offers only stagnant water, i.e. non-flowing water, then why does the Samaritan woman mention the cistern at all? The logical response would have been, “where then can you get this living water because you cannot draw it out of this well!”
It is fair to say that anyone of us, in the presence of Jesus, would speak like a simpleton. Even that worldly master of men, Pontius Pilate, was stymied by Our Lord’s wisdom and divine persona. We cannot blame the Samaritan woman for being confused and tongue-tied when her creator stood before her asking, “Give me a drink”.
For this 3rd Sunday of Lent we place on our bulletin cover a work by the French Romantic painter Camille Corot entitled Young Woman at the Well (1870). Corot was most famous for his pre-impressionist landscapes, yet his female portraits still leave observers wondering about the interior thoughts of these women figures.
Here we see a young woman standing near a well. She waits and looks. Let us say that Jesus is approaching her. Her right arm leaning on the well says that she is casual in her lifestyle; her left hand on her hip says that she is stubborn in her casualness. Her expression is not rude but cautious, after all she has had five husbands and lives now with a man who is not her husband (Jn 4:16-18). However, a few moments in the company of Jesus and she is changed; her soul has found its true love. She runs off to her village proclaiming Him to be the Messiah.
Besides this, this woman of Samaria has done the world another service. For we know now that if Our Lord ever asks us for a drink, we are to say simply, “Lord give us the living water that flows from your side.”