3RD SUNDAY OF LENT YEAR A ON MARCH 15, 2020 (R. 1: Exodus 17: 3- 7; Psalm 95: 1- 2, 6- 9; R. 2: Romans 5: 1- 2, 5- 8; Gospel: John 4: 5- 42)
FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
LET’S GO TO THE WELL!
“The Samaritan woman said to [Jesus], ‘How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” Why did she say those words to Jesus?
Remember, David was King of Israel, then his son Solomon became king after him. After the death of Solomon, his son Rehoboam became king, but because Solomon was unfaithful to God, the Kingdom of Israel was taken from him (cf. 1 King 11:9-11). Rehoboam then became King only over Judah in the South while Jeroboam became King over the ten tribes of Israel in the North (1 Kings 12:16-20), forming what we now identify as Samaria. In 721 BC, the Assyrian Empire conquered the Northern Kingdom. The Assyrians deported some of the Israelites and resettled foreigners in the lands of Northern Israel. These foreigners intermarried with some of the Israelites, which brought tension between them and the Jews in the Southern Kingdom. The Jews looked down on the Samaritans because their contact with foreigners and their foreign gods made them impure. The Samaritans worshipped the God of Israel, but in a different way and a different place. Jews worshipped at the Jerusalem temple, while the Samaritans worshipped at a temple built on Mount Gerizim.
It was amidst this tension between the Jews and the Samaritans that Jesus (a Jew) went to the Samaritan woman to ask her for water. Apart from the tension that already existed between the Jews and the Samaritans, it was against the custom for a man to address a woman who is not a member of his family in a one-on-one conversation, especially when they are alone. In this encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, we find the breaking of barriers, namely, the barrier between the Samaritans and the Jews and the barrier between men and women.
In the first reading from the Book of Exodus, the Israelites were thirsty. Moses struck the rock and gave them water to drink, and they became thirsty again. But the water that Jesus has come to give in the Gospel is the living water that quenches thirst eternally. Like the Israelites, the Samaritan woman was physically thirsty, and so she went to the well to fetch water. She had no name in the Gospel, but the Orthodox tradition calls her St. Photini, which means the illuminated or enlightened one.
Apart from the physical thirst, she had a more severe thirst, namely a spiritual desire, an inner craving which drove her from one man to another and for which she has not been able to find satisfaction. At the time of her meeting with Jesus, she was already in her sixth marriage, and yet she said, “I have no husband,” which is an indication of the fact that she is ready to look for the seventh husband.
Numbers have special meanings in the bible. For example, the number six stands for imperfection, lack, or deficiency, while the number seven stands for perfection, finality, or completeness. The woman, being in her sixth marriage, was in a situation of lack. Jesus came to her as the seventh man in her life, bringing her the satisfaction of her deepest desire. After she had kissed toads six times, she finally met the Prince in the person of Jesus Christ.
Like the Israelites in the desert, and like the Samaritan Woman, we are also thirsty, and we need to meet Jesus at the well. One common challenge we are facing at the moment is that of the coronavirus (COVID-19). What should be our response to this current challenge as Christians? To start with, we must not be in denial; we must admit that something is wrong. It calls for quiet reflection, it calls for caution, and we need to improve on our hand and general hygiene. As people of faith, our response must not come from a place of fear or panic. Fear beclouds our sense of right judgment; fear can deny us of moral clarity; fear can make us react in a very irrational and illogical way to situations.
Like I once shared with you, conditions do not change people, conditions only reveal who people are. Let our present challenges with the virus show how good we are. A moment like this calls for our generosity in different ways. For example, when we go shopping for toilet papers, let us leave some behind for those coming after us. Those of us with strong immune systems, we are called to be generous by exercising caution for the sake of the vulnerable. We can express our generosity in how we practice our faith. Everybody is not at the same level of faith. Remember, faith is a supernatural gift. If your faith is firm, be mindful of the weak. For example, regarding the temporary suspension of the reception of Holy Communion on the tongue, if your faith is so strong that your belief in the real presence makes you believe that no virus can be passed on to you while receiving Holy Communion, I congratulate you. But in Christian charity, you need to be mindful of that sister or brother coming after you whose faith is not that strong. For their sake, why not be generous and receive Jesus on your hand for now. After all, God, who created the tongue, also created the hand, and sometimes, we commit more sins with our tongue than with our hands.
During this period of the temporary suspension of public worship, let us renovate the domestic Church, which is the Church in the family. Let us use this time to pray more as a family. Study the bible, pray the rosary, and get to know one another more as a family.
One lesson I see in this coronavirus pandemic is the lesson on the breaking of barriers that Jesus is teaching in the Gospel passage. So far, I have not heard that the virus is going after only the democrats or only the republicans. I have not heard that it is going after only men or only women. It does not seem to know the difference between legal and illegal immigrants. It does not respect borders, race, or religion; it is out to get human beings. It is a reminder that there is only one race, the human race. Let us fight together as one. If your country is healthy today, if your family is wealthy today, if you are strong today, be mindful of others, for if we do not carry others along, very soon, we will be infected by what we neglected in others.
When the children of Israel were dying of thirst, they asked, “Is the Lord with us, or not?” In our present crisis, we can still confidently say that God is with us. But the big question now is, “Are we with God?”