Reflections on the Readings for Sunday 27 March 2011
Exodus 17:3-7; Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9; Romans 5:1-2, 5-8; John 4:5-42
A spring of living water welling up in us – what a striking image of the fullness of life offered to us in Christ. The Samaritan woman is a beautiful exemplar of the transformative effects of a true encounter with Jesus. The woman who meets Jesus is marginalized and has suffered numerous rejections. The woman who returns to the village is brimming with life. It is so noticeable to those who know her that they follow her back to the well to meet this man for themselves. The woman has a strange way of describing Jesus: the one who has told her everything she has done. I think this is much more significant than simply recognizing Jesus to have exceptional powers because he knows things an ordinary person could not possibly know. I read this as a reference to her experience of the living waters that have been released within her and now bubble forth in testimony. I imagine her as a vulnerable and exploited woman with deep religious longings and intellectual curiosity whose inner life was repressed, like murky, muddy water. She is lost because she is a stranger even to herself. Jesus truly sees her, and in his accepting gaze, she has the courage also to see herself. There is shame and beauty, light and shadow, and all of it is affirmed by Jesus. She can be her true self in God’s presence – surely that is what it means to worship God in spirit and in truth. The joy and freedom that realization brings explodes inside her like a leaping fountain.
St Paul reminds us that it is in our darkness and neediness that God reaches out to us in Christ. We don’t first of all have to make ourselves good. God’s love is free gift poured into our hard or fragile, cracked or crooked hearts. God’s Spirit awakens our spirit so that life bubbles up inside us. Fed by that inner fountain and held by God’s gracious gaze, we can live lives of hope that overflow to gift those around us.
Like God’s people in the desert, we are often aware of our thirst, but don’t think to turn to God to have it quenched. Like the Samaritan woman, we don’t know the treasure that is ours if we ask for it. We blame our dryness on our circumstances or leaders and question whether God is even with us. In the desert God caused water to gush out of a rock to quench the people’s thirst. The psalm celebrates God as the rock of our salvation. It recognizes the many ways in which God is present with us on our journey, just as God was present in the desert on the rock and in the provision of water. The psalm warns us not to make our own hearts rocklike by resisting God’s voice. To respond to God as the Samaritan woman responded to Jesus, we must stop long enough to listen, and trust enough to let down our defenses. The psalm uses the story in the wilderness as a warning, but it can also be a message of hope. Even if our hearts are hard and closed, God can cause the blocked spring to burst forth again, our spirit animated by God’s Spirit to well up into life.