In the socio-religious context of today’s Gospel story, according to the cultural morals and religious laws, this woman is perhaps the last person to whom “living water” should be given.
At least that is what we are supposed to think. After all, she is a woman who, in a male-preferred society, is undeserving of any special privileges.
Furthermore, she is a Samaritan, a member of the group that observant Jews considered fallen away from the true religion of Israel, and therefore apostates, and no longer people of the covenant.
On top of that, she is a woman of questionable virtue, even within her own community. Many scholars believe that is the reason she came all alone and in the heat of the day to draw water from the well, rather than in the company of the other women in the cool of the morning. Because of this, many scholars surmise that she may well have been an outsider in her own village.
In the first reading along with the Israelites we are told that God will quench our thirst. In the Gospel we discover that Jesus is the source of “living water.” Thus, we may conclude that God’s promise to quench our thirst, is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
It is interesting to note that in all of this, there is no talk of our meriting this life-giving water. The Israelites were undeserving, the Samaritan woman was undeserving, and we too, in our human sinfulness, are undeserving. This life-giving water is not deserved but freely given.
It is from God’s lavish love that this water flows and our thirst is slaked. What matters is whether or not we recognize that we are thirsty and know to seek to have our thirst quenched in Jesus Christ.
I think it is very important to note that this woman at the center of today’s Gospel encounter, could easily, particularly in a patriarchal society, be written off as a sinful person. But that would completely miss the point and trajectory of her encounter with Jesus. A hugely significant point of the story is not that she is sinful but that she is a Samaritan woman! And Jesus is a Jewish man and he should know better than to have anything to do with her! So we have a man approaching a woman in an area where they are alone and they are unrelated -- this is very problematic according to 1st Century Middle Eastern mores.
Jesus should know better, but he has a plan and his plan is to offer her salvation, regardless of her “outsider religious status”, regardless of her sin.
The trajectory of this encounter that is so important is that Jesus manifests that God’s plan of salvation is not just for the House of Israel! It is for all people. It is even open to Samaritans!
The readings over the next few Sundays offer wonderful Lenten opportunities to look deeply into our own hearts. Have they hardened like the Israelites who took God’s goodness for granted?
Do we test God even though we have seen, heard of, and experienced God’s marvelous deeds in our lives? Or, are we more like the Samaritan woman caught in the complexities of life, yet open to new insights; open to conversions of mind and heart with Jesus? What parts of my life most need conversion? Am I gaining any new insights through my Lenten practices...is my heart any softer?