3RD SUNDAY OF LENT, YEAR A
By: Rev. Fr. AMEH Sylvanus
Readings: Exodus 17:3-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-2. 5-8; John 4:5-42
Theme: If only you knew…
This reflection shall focus majorly on today’s gospel narrative. In it, we read of the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman whom he begged for water to drink.
The reality of thirst and the human need for water is one that even Jesus’ humanity had to bow to. And when Jesus begged the Samaritan woman for water, she wondered why he, a Jew, should ask her, a Samaritan, for water. But this reading has a few dynamics which we will need to understand, in order to understand the woman’s shock and amazement. So, let us take a brief look at the origin of the Samaritans’ sour relationship with the other Jews.
In 720 BC, Assyria attacked the northern kingdom of Israel and took many people away as captives (2 Kgs 17:6). The Assyrians later brought in their own people and settled them in Samaria. The remnant Jews who were left behind inter-married with these foreign settlers, a direct contravention of God’s express command forbidden intermarriage between Jews and gentiles (Deut 7:1-4; emphasis on verses 3-4). This defiled them and made them “impure” Jews. Much later, the southern kingdom of Judah was also attacked and destroyed by Babylon, including the Temple in Jerusalem. They too, were deported, but the Jews from Judah vehemently chose to remain pure. When eventually, King Cyrus released them, in the days of prophets Ezra and Nehemiah, they returned home and started rebuilding the Temple. The Jews of Samaria offered to help, but they were rejected pointblank and told they were defiled, impure Jews. The Samaritan Jews were further barred from worshipping in the Temple in Jerusalem, which was the final nail in the coffin. This led the Samaritans to set up their own temple on Mt. Gerizim. This worsened the already existing bitterness between them. Hence, the traditional Jews and Samaritans do not mingle after that time. This quarrel/malice lasted more than 400 years before Jesus. This explains the surprise of the Samaritan woman when Jesus begged her for water. To make matters worse, she is a woman, and Rabbis do not talk to women in public. From this gospel text therefore, we shall draw two major lessons.
1. Jesus sets for us, the necessity of peace and reconciliation
Ignoring an age old national malice, Jesus made the move of peace and friendship on the Samaritan woman, and eventually, on her entire town. Not minding the fact that Jews and Samaritans do not mix, Jesus engaged the woman in a conversation, which ended in her conversion and that of many others in her village. When Jesus went on to stay two days in the Samaritan town, he must have also left an impression on his disciples concerning this long standing hatred between Jews and Samaritans. Jesus teaches us here by his action, to break down the walls of hatred and malice, especially as a result of family quarrels, some of which may have even taken place several years before we were born, and to build the bridge of reconciliation and peace. Severally, the Bible tells us of the need to be reconciled to one another and to live in peace with everyone. For instance:
- Matthew 5:23 – If you are offering your gifts at the altar and there, you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gifts there at the altar, go and first be reconciled to your brother, then come and offer your gifts (implying that we cannot be at peace with God if we are not at peace with one another).
- Matthew 6:14-15 – If you forgive those who offend you the wrongs they have done to you, your Father in heaven will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father in heaven will not forgive you either.
- Hebrews 12:14 – Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see God.
- Romans 12:14 – Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
There are many people today who bear grudges against others for varying length of time. If you are one of such, today, Jesus invites you to break that barrier of malice and reach out with the hand of friendship. Sadly even, some people will rather suffer hardship than ask help from someone they consider an enemy. Today, Jesus shows us a better path.
2. Jesus tells us that helping the needy benefits us more
By asking the Samaritan woman for water, Jesus was inviting her to help a stranger in need. At first, the woman hesitates because first, Jesus was from an enemy community, and secondly, she had the upper hand, having the bucket and the rope. But Jesus tells her, “If only you knew the gift of God…” If only you knew what God has in store for you when you give out what is in your hand, then you will be the one asking for help. But she did not understand. Many of us too do not seem to understand why God will ask us to forgive before he will forgive us, to give before he will give us, to do before he will do for us. The reason is because in giving, we are equipped with the capacity to receive.
This is why Jesus says “Give, and it shall be given unto you. Good measure, shaken together, pressed down and running over, will be poured into your bosom (Lk 6:38). Before Jesus could give the woman living water, he first asked her for physical water. And he said to her, “If only you knew…” Today too, and especially in this season of Lent when we emphasize mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation and almsgiving, Jesus says to us, “If only you knew…”
- If only you knew what great mercy awaits you, you will forgive those who wrong you.
- If only you knew, that breaking the barriers of hatred and malice opens the door to inner peace and freedom, you will reach out and make for peace.
- If only you knew, that doing charity opens the floodgates of blessings and mercy, you will not hold back your gifts.
- If only you knew, that the person begging you for food or drink could be Jesus in disguise, you will help the needy.
- If only we knew the blessings of obedience which God is offering us, we would listen to his commands.
Oh that today, you will listen to his voice, harden not your hearts (Psalm 95:7).
In summary, today, God invites us to reach out to others and do two things:
- offer the hand of peace and reconciliation to those with whom we have misunderstandings, and
- offer also, the hand of charity to those in need.
We pray for the courage to heed the word of God for us today. Amen