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Sunday, April 02, 2017

3rd Sunday of Lent – Year A - 19 March 2017

Today's gospel story is one of my favourites. Today, I will focus on this encounter as transformation of the Samaritan Woman's faith by the theological discussion between her and Jesus.

The first thing that we notice is that she is practical. She asks how Jesus is going to give her any kind of water without a bucket. Jesus replies to her practical question in spiritual terms. He uses the terms “gift of God” and “living” water”, which, in ancient time, were used to describe the Torah. It is possible that the woman understood His offer. For example, she asks “Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well?” Satisfied with Jesus' answer, she asks for the water that she understands will eternally quench her thirst.

Next Jesus suggests that she “call her husband.” It is this part of the story that is often used to show that the woman was one of loose morals. A woman who has had five husbands and is now living with a man who is not her husband. Even understood only literally, the lesson is Jesus does not condemn the woman but continues in conversation with her. However, several scripture scholars have noted that since the Hebrew word for “husband” ba'al (בַּעַל), also means spouse, master, lord. It was also used as a name for a pagan god. This passage in John should be interpreted as a play on words: The woman represents Samaria. She has had five balim or the five gods. Gods that were brought to Samaria by the nations that conquered it. The God, Yahweh, that she now has is not really her ba'al because the Yahwism of the Samaritans is adulterated. Their worship of Yahweh is not pure like that of the Jews. This interpretation provides us with the opportunity to ponder who or what are the lords or pagan idols of our own lives.

This interpretation is not so far-fetched in light of her next question about the right place to worship. 20Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ In today's context we could substitute an Indigenous Woman or a Jewish Woman, or a Buddhist Woman or a Muslim Woman and the question would look something like, “Our people worship on this mountain, or in the synagogue, or in the temple, or in the mosque, but you Christians say that the place where people must worship is in church, and you Roman Catholics say that the place to worship must be in a Catholic Church. Jesus reply to the Samaritan Woman is 4God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’

Fr. Joseph Girzone gives us an insight into what that might look like. In his book, Joshua, Girzone writes about the title character who is Second Coming of Christ. In the book, Joshua visits churches and synagogues, which upsets the Episcopalian or as we would say Anglican priest. The Catholics gets so fed up with him that he is reported to the Vatican and the cardinals summon him to Rome to silence him.

The point Jesus and Fr. Girzone want to illustrate is that getting stuck on the right formula of worship and the right place of worship is the antithesis of the right way to worship. The religious leaders in Fr. Girzone's book were so intent that their particular brand of religion is right that they don't realize God in their midst.

Similarly, we can't always tell by a person's gender or ethnicity how receptive they are or what gifts they have to give. The disciples “were astonished that he was speaking with a woman” and probably doubly astonished that she was a Samaritan. But they don't say anything. Since, they are just coming back from getting food for all of them, the simply say, “Rabbi, eat something.” Jesus' reply has been a comfort and a hope for me for a long time. Jesus says, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” The apostles are speaking on a physical level but just as with the “living water” metaphor, Jesus is speaking on the spiritual level. Jesus has to explain it to them “My food is to do God's will.” God's will is that we are transformed by our encounter with Jesus, just as the Samaritan Woman was transformed. Jesus, too, is nourished by her transformation.

In New Testament times, time of day was measured from 6:00 am, so the sixth hour, which is the literal translation of the Greek, would be noon as stated in our gospel reading. But noon is an unusual time for a woman to be coming to draw water. Women usually draw water in the morning and evening. Did the Samaritan go to the well at this time so as to avoid the other women? If so, the depth of her transformation is evidenced in that to give testimony she overcame whatever may have caused her to feel that she needed to go to the well at a time when it was unlikely that she would see anyone. She is determined to share her encounter with Jesus with others. She does this in more than words. She encourages the other Samaritans to go and meet Jesus themselves. Each time we think or act for a good or for a benefit that goes beyond ourselves, that thought or act is one of transformation, no matter how small. Each little transformation feeds, not only the God-seed with in each of us, but feeds the garden of communion with God. This Lenten season and beyond, let the acts of each of us fertilize this garden.

Please share what stands out for you in the story of the Samaritan Woman

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