Jesus came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there. Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well. It was about noon. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” —For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.—Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink, ‘ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where then can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?” Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “Go call your husband and come back.” The woman answered and said to him, “I do not have a husband.” Jesus answered her, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews. 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. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ; when he comes, he will tell us everything.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one speaking with you.” At that moment his disciples returned, and were amazed that he was talking with a woman, but still no one said, “What are you looking for?” or “Why are you talking with her?” The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?” They went out of the town and came to him. Meanwhile, the disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” So the disciples said to one another, “Could someone have brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work. Do you not say, ‘In four months the harvest will be here’? I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest. The reaper is already receiving payment and gathering crops for eternal life, so that the sower and reaper can rejoice together. For here the saying is verified that ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the work, and you are sharing the fruits of their work.” Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me everything I have done.” When the Samaritans came to him, they invited him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. Many more began to believe in him because of his word, and they said to the woman, “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”
It was Thoreau who wrote of people living “lives of quiet desperation.” He may have been thinking of a low grade depression or a chronic boredom we can’t seem to shake. It may have been torpor or lethargy; the French have a word, ennui, it means a deep seated sense of unease, you’re constantly out of sorts, there’s a great weariness. Perhaps there are so many unmet hopes, dreams that are unfulfilled. It may be associated with aging or poor health, strained or even broken relationships, job dissatisfaction, troubled finances, the current political scene, world affairs, even the weather. Perhaps it stems from “low self esteem” or old fashioned ‘burn out.’ Often it’s tied in with grief. Brain synapses may be misfiring. Other aspects of our body chemistry may be out of whack. The point is, no one is immune from being emotionally off balance, of having unfulfilled expectations, personal pain and a sense of unease, a life “of quiet desperation.”
There may have been too much attention paid to the voice of the devil when he whispers in your ear “you’re no good, you never were any good, you never will be any good.” Most of us get over it; some do not. Where are these folks? In a pew here in St. Mary Parish? It’s anywhere and everywhere. It can be any of us, but especially it’s these folks:
Anyone who is told that she, or he, is not needed or wanted.
Anybody who is convinced that no one really cares.
Anyone who has been given more blows than caresses.
Down at the mission? At a battered women’s shelter? In a nursing home. In prison? It’s anyone who’s received unremitting criticism, but never a chance—or even a kind word.
Victims of resentment and futility. It’s anyone who’s done some really stupid—perhaps evil stuff— and folks remember and aren’t letting it go.
You know what it’s like to have no one sit with you at coffee hour.
You’ve wondered what it would be like to have one good friend.
You’ve been in love and were burned so badly, that you aren’t ever going to do that again!
Or maybe you’ve tried to find love in all the wrong places— with all the wrong people—in all the wrong ways.
We can look at the woman in today’s Gospel lesson. We don’t know her name, but we know some things about her. She is a Samaritan, one of those mixed race northerners whose ancestors were both Hebrew and Assyrian, great enemies whom the Jews viewed as undesirable aliens. These Samaritans believed that God should be worshiped on Mt. Gerazim and not in the Temple in Jerusalem. Jewish troops destroyed the temple at Mt. Gerazim in 128 BC and the consequent hostilities still festered.
- This unnamed woman at the well in today’s Gospel lesson knew the sting of racism—she knew what it was like to be unwelcomed and unwanted.
- She has been married to five men. Five. Did they all die or was she divorced? She was probably divorced from at least one of those guys, because if she had been widowed—most likely it would have been mentioned in the text. But we don’t know. Either way, she was left alone.
- Five different marriages and all the different beds, all the different abandonments, those who walked out or died or who divorced her. I would guess that she knew the sound of slamming doors.
It reminds me of that old Willie Nelson song: “The last thing I needed the first thing this morning, was to have you walk out on me.’
This Samaritan woman knew what it is like to love and not to have it returned. And we know from the text that she isn’t married to her current partner. Was it his idea, or was it hers? Again we don’t know. All we know is that they are “co-habituating” which is the polite term.
Let’s look more closely. A few lines down from the beginning we see that the time of this encounter between Jesus and this woman was about noon. This raises the question, “Why hadn’t she come for water in the early hours of the morning with the other women?” Maybe she had, and perhaps she had just returned for an extra jar on a hot day. Probably not. I’m guessing it was to avoid the catty remarks.
- “Here she comes. She’s got another man.”
- “Watch your husbands.”
- “Shh. She’s listening.”
We can only guess; the text doesn’t say. All we know is that she is drawing water at noon, a very unusual hour and she encounters Jesus. He was obviously a Jew and he looks directly at her and she becomes uneasy, even suspicious. Jesus then asks her for a drink of water. “Uh, huh.” She was too street wise to think that this was just a request for water. Her intuition was right. He was interested in more than just water. He was interested in her heart and her soul.
They talked. She probably thought something like, “When had a man talked to me so intimately and not tried to hit on me?” He tells her of water that quenches not the thirst of the throat, but the thirst of the soul.
Something hit home. Oh, my, she wanted that. About a quarter of the way into the passage, she says, “Sir, give me this water so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” My guess is that her response is primarily about avoiding this particular well where embarrassment abounds. Anyway, Jesus then said, “Go call your husband and come back.” Her heart must have sunk. Here he was, a holy Jew who spoke to her with respect— to her, a Samaritan woman—a suspect foreigner.
A lie probably flashed through her mind, but she told the truth. He was kind in a way that invited honesty. “I do not have husband,” she said. She probably held her breath, waiting for his response.
Think of the number of times you’ve wanted to do the same thing. Remember when you longed to open that dark, bolted door of your secret sin that you were ashamed to tell even your confessor? If you’ve ever had the same kind of anxiety, pay particular attention to the next line.
Jesus said, “’You are right in saying ‘I do not have a husband;’ for you have had five husbands and the one you have now is not your husband. What you said is true.’” There are no secrets from Jesus.
Think about what Jesus didn’t say, though. There was no criticism, no contempt, no anger. No “what kind of a mess have made of your life” lecture. She must have been overwhelmed. And then the most remarkable part of this passage occurred. To her, this Samaritan woman, Jesus reveals his identity for the first time. He said, “I am the Christ.”
Suddenly all the sham, all the broken relationships and adultery, all the loneliness, all the fear, all the ‘snake’s belly low self-esteem’ was gone. She was free. In verse 28, we have one of those ‘throw away’ lines that is terribly important. The text says “The woman left her water jar and went into town.”
Look at what she left behind: The water jar! She left her burden with the Messiah. She was free. St. Augustine reflected on this passage and said—the water jar is the fallen desire…that draws pleasure from the dark wells of the world, but is never satisfied for long. Conversion to Christ moves us, like the Samaritan woman, to renounce the world, leave behind the desires of our earthen vessels, and follow a new way of life. (Tract on John 15, 16, 30)
Shifting gears, as I ponder all this, I am reminded that not all of us carry this kind of burden, but we all are required by the Church to go to confession this time of year. Many do not. Some may be overwhelmed by their sin and they are afraid to go. Confession is a wonderful antidote.
But many others don’t go for other reasons. Fr. Alexander Lucie-Smith in the recent addition the Catholic Herald in England writes:
“..it is not hard to go to Confession. People sometimes say things like ‘I don’t know the words’ or ‘I don’t know what to say.’ You do not have to get your story right before you go to confession; you just have to be honest. The only thing you have to say is the truth. You have to talk as if to God, the One who knows you best. The only real thing you need to take with you is a sense of your own sinfulness and an awareness of your sins.”
“It is a lack of this last that keeps people away from confession, I think, rather than embarrassment or fear. They no longer feel guilty because they have reasoned that they are nice people and that the things they do are somehow ‘OK’ because God ‘doesn’t mind’. How to cure that mentality? I suppose the best way would be to read the Bible and find out what God is really like. One might like to start with these verses from Exodus, where God gives this description of Himself:’
The LORD, the LORD, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity, continuing his kindness for a thousand generations, and forgiving wickedness and crime and sin; yet not declaring the guilty guiltless… (Exodus 34:6) ‘That hardly sounds like a God who does not mind transgression. God is moral, and His glory consists in the revelation of His moral goodness. Compared to Him, we are all weak and fallible and not as good as we could be.’ With this in mind, let us all get ourselves off to Confession this Lent. (Catholic Herald Mar.17, 2017)
Sometimes I think it is easier for people who are gross sinners, like the Samaritan woman, who are well aware of their sins and their need to come to Christ and offer him those sins. It is the folks who live pretty good lives who have trouble. They too may live lives “of quiet desperation” but they don’t look at any of it as a result of sin but often sins are there, frequently sins of omission, and by not confessing them they miss out on all that wonderful grace.
Today we once again celebrate the one who lifts our burdens and sets us free. We may get pretty desperate but our baptismal promise tells us that we are his and his love will never cease. If you’ve ever questioned this, especially during a time of quiet desperation, I would remind you once again of the gift God has given us through Christ’s life, death and resurrection.