Third Sunday of Lent
Suggested formula for recognition of Indigenous people and their land
Today we stand in footsteps millennia old.
May we acknowledge the traditional owners
whose cultures and customs have nurtured,
and continue to nurture,
this land since men and women awoke from the great dream.
We honour the presence of these ancestors
who reside in the imagination of this land
and whose irrepressible spirituality
flows through all creation.
John introduces the story of the Samaritan Woman at the Well saying that Jesus had to pass through Samaria, which Jewish people tried hard to avoid. Against community expectations Jesus deliberately passed through this area as if to spotlight it as also being important. The basic purpose of this story is to establish the full equality in the community between Samaritan Christians and Jewish Christians. It is a powerful lesson about inclusiveness in our Church and about the role of women as disciples and theologians. At an unusual time of day, Jesus is in conversation with a woman who is trying to avoid other people. This conversation gives an insight into how Jesus sees her and how she comes to see herself. Jesus sees her, where to others she is invisible. Whatever her past, real or imagined in the minds of those around her, Jesus looks at her and mirrors what he sees when he looks upon her. The limitations of time, religiosity, culture, and gender do not define how he sees her. He recognises her human dignity and makes her aware that she belongs to his circle. Jesus sees us with the same eyes! Black people are often whitewashed in the media. LGBTIQA+ people are dismissed as dangerous and scandalous. Women are often invisible. The poor are ignored. In the gospel we see Jesus look at women with a new look. They are visible in Jesus where many make them invisible. The challenge is to be part of a movement that leads others out of invisibility into visibility. The narrative says a lot about Jesus and his “preferential option” for women. It highlights how the women in Jesus’ life were more perceptive and courageous leaders than the rather dull, fearful men around him.
On the mountain of the Transfiguration last week, the disciples saw and experienced Jesus, and themselves, differently. They were transformed. The encounter in today’s gospel was transformative for the woman as well as for her fellow villagers. One who was ostracised and ignored is now listened to. ow finds them listening to her. A confrontation takes place. It is not between good and evil but a conflict of exclusivist, sexist, and racist cultures. The whole point of coming to fetch water at noon in ungodly heat for the woman is to avoid meeting anyone else. Central to the story is that God’s love is poured into our hearts and that living water finds the lowest point in our hearts. God appears as living water in the form of a stranger.
Through this encounter with Jesus, the woman goes from being a stranger among her own people into a messenger of hope for them. We have all had encounters with people whose kindness, sensitivity, compassion, encouragement, or care has mirrored God’s goodness and the Gospel real.
God’s life flows through us when we are outside our comfort zones — when we break with conventional behavior; when we speak with strangers; when we endure suffering; even when we question and quarrel with God. Jesus cared more about the woman’s thirst than about morality. Pope Francis constantly urges us to look into the eyes of another, to recognise her or his humanity and not trash it irrespective the person. As we listen to the gospel, our respect for another must flow from the fact that she or he bears God’s imprint. The Message Bible has Jesus responding this way: ‘…the time is coming,’ Jesus says, ‘it has, in fact, come – when what you're called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter. It's who you are and the way you live that counts before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That's the kind of people God is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before God in their worship.’
When we see people who endure dispossession, violence and death or be in solidarity we might ask where God is. We are reminded that God comes amongst us as a stranger in the suffering of the poor, the person seeking asylum seekers and refugee, the abused and neglected. God is also present when the humanity of the ’other’ is respected and treated as ’another. If we truly listen, we can hear the cries of God in the people. In 2013 Pope Francis said, ‘The presence of God among people did not take place in a perfect, idyllic world but rather in this real world, which is marked by so many things both good and bad, by division, wickedness, poverty, arrogance and war. He chose to live in our history as it is, with all the weight of its limitations and of its tragedies. In doing so, he has demonstrated in an unequalled manner his merciful and truly loving disposition toward the human creature. He is God-with-us. Jesus is God-with-us. Do you believe this? Together let us profess: Jesus is God with us! Jesus is God with us always and forever with us in history's suffering and sorrow.’
For women who have been disdained yet persistent and fearless over the centuries, the woman in the gospel is like a spiritual matriarch. All kinds of borders have been crossed and survives and thrives in a society that privileged and privileges male power. Jesus literally crosses a geographical border as well as ethnic, political, religious borders by interacting with a Samaritan. This strong woman (who may not have felt strong) survives and thrives in a society that privileged male power. She does not cower before the male gaze, or ‘natural authority’ based on gender. When Jesus asks for a drink, she is street smart enough to be on guard: ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ Though she may assume that the conversation will go nowhere, she does not permit cynicism to define or petrify her. Yet, she continues to engage.
Unfortunately, so many interpretations, when speaking of her husbands, describe her as a ‘whore’ or ‘prostitute.’ We are not told why she had numerous husbands. Did they die? Leave? Was she a child bride and forced to take the brothers from a family? Despite meaning being imported into this text, there is little sympathy or understanding of her plight.
Nevertheless, both she and Jesus were vulnerable together and risk something together. We see in the interaction between Jesus and the woman, that salvation is never restricted by deeds, creeds or rituals but emerges from relationship with God. Once we have been affected by a relationship with God, it begins to flow into all our other relationships. Martin Buber once said, 'All real living is meeting.' We are liberated for life - for ourselves, and for all others. Jesus risks critique for talking to her. The woman risks ridicule when she tells the other people that Jesus is someone worth following. She persists despite attempts to silence her. She is one of the first proclaimers of the good news of the healing, wholeness, and life that Jesus brings. The failure of the disciples is a failure of the imagination as they awkwardly respond to Jesus’s interaction to this woman and worry about its appropriateness. She has little time to deal with their sexist notions. She goes preaching so others will catch the vision and then also spread the vision.
Is this not the story of so many women who lead communities of faith around the world, e.g., Amazonia, rural areas of Australia, Africa, etc? Like so many women and other people who are disdained this woman persists and ignores those who disparage or hate them by following the path set before them with Jesus and build God’s reign through sharing their lives and building effective coalitions. Can we move out of our comfort zones, leave our old ‘water jars’ behind and welcome the gifts of God that are being offered to us? Lent is the season when we are called to strike the rock of our hard hearts with rods of fasting, prayer and almsgiving. We see how Jesus respected the full humanness of this woman. The law was secondary when weighed against respect for a person. Jesus offers the ‘living water’ of hope to all people and freedom from the oppressive practices that deprive them of their true dignity. What matters is that Jesus would not allow differences (or laws) prevent the Samaritan woman from being called into new life and new mission.
People live on the edges in every community and every church – people who are ‘thirsty’, struggle to make ends meet and have little access to the fullness of life. What is needed is an environment that is supportive and enables people to live a vibrant and meaningful life. This is the ‘living water’ that people long for. Here there is healing, restoration, freedom, and connectedness. Let us consider this week how much we – as individuals and communities - might be like the townspeople who push people away because they do not live like we would expect or live outside what we consider the norm. This applies to all marginalised groups in church and society. We are reminded to intentionally go out of ourselves; go out of the comfort of what is our normal to search those who are ostracised. It means asking them questions and listening to them. It means acknowledging and celebrating their joys. It means acknowledging and grieving with them in the face of their tragedies.
God, you are good.
The world is filled with your goodness.
In Jesus, we have seen your love
and your desire for transformation.
In the Spirit, alive today,
we know your healing love
and radical, loving wisdom.
You passionately desire human happiness.
God, we’ve noticed that
some people have distorted your record
and have even ruined your good reputation.
Whenever any human life is violated,
your glory is dimmed and dishonoured.
Whenever humans engage in the ways of violence,
your spirit is hindered.
Whenever our beautiful world is abused,
your presence is less visible.
Whenever the systems of our world keep the poor poor,
you are hard to find.
God, we desire to restore your reputation
and expose the wonder of your glory.
Wherever human beings are quickened to fuller and richer life,
your glory is enhanced.
Whenever we can complete the ministry of reconciliation,
your spirit comes alive.
Whenever there is a community of justice and peace,
you are alive among us.
Inspired by a quote from Elizabeth Johnson CSJ, in She Who Is, p. 14