Meditation of Archbishop Pizzaballa for third Sunday of Lent
March 19, 2017
Third Sunday of Lent, Year A
The Gospel of John relates intense dialogues, often long and difficult, between Jesus and the most diverse people. The first is Nicodemus, in chapter 3; then we encounter the Samaritan woman, the man born blind, Martha and Mary on the occasion of the death of their brother, Lazarus. They are called dialogues of “revelation”, actually, of “self-revelation”, wherein Jesus, while talking with one of these personalities, reveals Himself, tells something of Himself. Today’s passage, along with those of the next two Sundays, was part of baptismal catechesis, since it introduces us gradually to the knowledge of Jesus. The dialogues are in fact constructed in such a way as to gradually bring out the truth about Jesus as rabbi, prophet, Messiah, etc.
Furthermore, John the Evangelist, in the passage which precedes that of the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, reports the last words of John the Baptist, which tell that the Bridegroom has come, and that the bride belongs to the Bridegroom. Then the Baptist disappears completely from the scene (decreases!). In this chapter we see the Bridegroom who goes in search of the bride. He seeks her at the well, in Biblical symbology always a place of encounter and weddings (cf. Genesis 29:10).
We cannot dwell on the many biblical references of the passage because they are really so many and therefore we must pause briefly only on a few insights, deferring to a more careful reading.
God’s revelation does not happen in a theoretical, abstract, way nor does it descend from on high in a sterile manner, but takes place within the event of a personal encounter. Jesus reveals Himself by encountering real persons, entering into their story, by communicating. And it could not be otherwise, because our God is an encounter, He is a relationship and He cannot say anything of Himself without speaking with someone.
And, in some way, the Lord adapts Himself to the one that is before Him: to Nicodemus, who knows all the laws, who goes to Him by night, Jesus speaks of himself as a free and limitless love, which brings you where you do not know; to the Samaritan woman, who has a great thirst for love, who comes there with the baggage of her wounded and complex history, He speaks of living water; to the blind man he reveals Himself as light; to the sisters who are weeping at the death of their dear one, Jesus is resurrection and life.
So Jesus reaches every story, He is at one with all humanity: and thus He reveals Himself.
And while He reveals Himself, something happens in the one He is speaking to, who becomes involved in the dialogue, so in the end he finds himself different from what he was at the beginning of the encounter: life is transformed by it and salvation happens in every story.
Today we see all this in the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman.
There are at least three reasons why this encounter should not have happened: the first, simply, because she is a woman, and it wasn’t a decent thing that a rabbi was speaking openly with a woman. Actually, when the disciples will return from the city, they will be quite surprised to see Jesus speaking with her (Jn 4:27).
The second is that she is a Samaritan woman, and therefore in some way a schismatic and heretic: at first, the woman is surprised that Jesus speaks to her and immediately reacts: “How is it that you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (Jn 4:9). And the evangelist comments: “Jews indeed have nothing in common with Samaritans”.
Finally, besides being a woman, besides being a Samaritan woman, she was also an irregular: having had five husbands, and now was living with a sixth man, with whom she was not married. In short, it was enough to embarrass a good Israelite.
Jesus does not see any of this: He only sees a woman who thirsts, as He thirsts. And that, like Him, she thirsts for true words, true encounters, true love.
Jesus begins a dialogue with her and begins it not like one who gives something, but as one who asks. Asking is one of the nicest ways to love, to truly love: it is to give the other the opportunity to give you something, it acknowledges his own dignity, their richness, their value.
And so the woman is very surprised and immediately makes her predictable objections, based on differences that divide and alienate: she is not used to be treated like this, and must open herself little by little to a new thing.
Jesus reaches her right there, where, for centuries, differences had created hostility: and He does nothing but re-establish an interrupted dialogue.
She can probably understand very little of this dialogue, which speaks of sources, of eternal life, of spirit and truth: Jesus speaks with her of the highest matters, but that’s not the problem. The woman comes to understand the essential, namely that this man, this rabbi, this prophet, this Messiah speaks to her, He is speaking just to her. He knows her, knows her entire history; and yet He is speaking with her.
“I am He, that speaks with you” (Jn 4:25), and I am speaking now; the Messiah that you await is here so that He may tell you everything (Jn 4:25), and He is speaking with you. This is the revelation that happens in the Samaritan woman’s life. This is God’s gift (Jn 4:10), to know, to accept: simply, the Messiah that you await is here and says to you “give me to drink”.
This changes life completely: before, this woman was “only” a woman, a Samaritan, an irregular; now, she is a woman with whom the Messiah speaks. Nothing can be the same as before: without your noticing it, the Word of the Lord digs a well in you, releases a fountain in you.
The evidence is that the woman leaves her water jar there, and goes (Jn 4:28). No longer does one need a water jar who has found the fountain, and who has discovered that the fountain dwells within one’s own life.
What does she announce? She announces that a man spoke to her; He told her everything that she had done. That is, the story that was a reason for shame and dishonor, is now the situation and occasion of news; only in this way is the news real.
And it became an occasion of news not because in the meantime something changed, not because in the meantime she was “regularized”.
The woman can be real, because in this her insufficient truth the Lord has brought hope. That hope whereby every life is no more than a sowing season, that one day, with patience, will see the progress and the harvest (Jn 4:34-36); and everyone will enjoy it, those who sow and who reap.
Nothing is ever closed once and for all; all can open again when the Lord is here, and speaks with you.