Updated: Apr 8
Heather Khym writes about discovering Jesus,
For many years, I was discovering a lot about God, theologically, but also what it meant to be in a relationship with him. I was learning to see God in the daily moments of my life, but it wasn’t until I took a deeper look at the scriptures, with the intention of discovering his personality, that I came to a deeper understanding of who Jesus really is. This took my relationship with him to a significantly greater depth because as I discovered more about him, his heart, his kindness, and his character, I was captivated and fell in love with him all over again (Abide, p.59)
This seems like the experience of the Samaritan woman in the gospel of today. This stranger-woman discovers the kindness of Jesus, his character, and indeed his heart. She drops her water jar in exchange for the living water.
Let’s just say that the Samaritan woman is one RCIA candidate, somewhat unsure of what she needs in her bid for conversion into the Church. Her experience aligns with what is happening on these third, fourth, and fifth Sundays of Lent. Catechumens and candidates are being prepared to embrace their new journey of faith by what is called the Scrutinies.
The Scrutinies are three special rites that help prepare the Elect, those participating in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), to enter the Catholic Church. They take place during the period of RCIA formation known as Purification and Enlightenment, near the end of their formation. The purpose of the Scrutinies is “to uncover, then heal all that is weak, defective, or sinful” in the hearts of the Elect and to “strengthen all that is upright, strong, and good.” (Quotes from Ritual Text for Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, paragraph #141). The word "scrutinize" in this sense means "to see clearly or inspect closely."
Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman in the gospel narrative and uncovers her past. He heals her weakness. He corrects her defects and cleans her sinful track. On the other hand, the woman’s strong, resilient character is brought to the fore and she experiences a transformation. She moves from fetching water at the well of Jacob to embracing Jesus the living water. She becomes a witness to her people, “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?”
God is constantly searching for his children, sometimes amidst complicated circumstances. This unveils in the contrasting events that present themselves in this encounter. A male Jew encounters a female Samaritan. The water of Jacob’s well encounters the living water. The physical life embraces eternal life. And the timing of the entire episode is noon, meaning that in Jesus, the Samaritan woman is touched by a fresh opportunity to embrace the full light of faith.
Here, Jesus gives the woman two specific commands:
1. Give me a drink (water).
2. Go and call your husband and come back.
Each of these instructions opens up a completely new chapter in her life and prompts her to a new destination. Unknown to her, this would choreograph her spiritual trajectory and faith story. When God asks you for something, he already plans to double the outcome –“the water I shall give will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The Samaritan woman rightly questions the rationale of such water given by a Jew. How about the existential conflicts between Jews and Samaritans? How, indeed, can a Jew ask a Samaritan, a known enemy for a drink? The answer is that Jesus is not just a Jew. He is the redeemer, the healer of broken hearts and of broken relationships. He is greater than Jacob who dug the well. He gives the water of salvation. As soon as the woman discovers these, her position shifts from doubt and resistance to curiosity and excitement, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Jesus makes this clear by his response to her question about the messiah, “I am he, the one speaking with you.” Jesus is the wellspring of grace.
Jesus’ second command to the woman is, “Go and call your husband and come back,” to which she responds, “I do not have a husband.” The one who gives the living water already knows her past, yet he engages her. Jesus guides her in a compassionate way. He touches the depth of her interior life. Has this woman been living with different men? Has she been widowed five times? Is she prostituting? The passage does not say exactly what the five husbands mean, but Jesus draws her into the best relationship henceforth. She openly confesses to this desire to embrace the new friendship. She is presented with a fresh invitation. This does not happen on Mount Gerizim and not on Jerusalem mountain, but rather through a heartfelt worship of the Father in Spirit and truth.
This must have been the biggest day in the Samaritan woman’s life. She discovers the prophet, the one who tells her everything about her life. She uncovers the living water and exchanges her bucket of water for the baptismal font. She finds the messiah. Now she becomes a witness to the redeeming power of God’s love. She must start all over, and not alone. She leaves her jar and hurries home to bring everyone to share in this new dawn.
Why those commands to the Samaritan woman? What does that mean to us?
1. God knows us deeply. Imagine the progression of this conversation. The Samaritan woman experiences the depth of who Jesus really is. From what was vague and perhaps a wrong stereotypical impression about Jews, she is treated with compassion. From an initial pushback against giving water to a considered Jew-enemy, she witnesses an intimate conversation about life. God meets us where we are and there are no strangers in His house.
2. Jesus unblocks our resistance against God’s goodness and love. Jesus softens this woman’s heart for the great encounter ahead. Khym writes, “If we are able to understand and name the blocks we struggle with, we are more likely to be able to do the work to remove them with God’s help.” Jesus’ tenderness and patience show eloquently in this encounter. He gently guides the woman to chart a new narrative. God is greater than anything that hinders us from embracing his love.
3. Jesus introduces us to the depth of our conversion experience. In all these, the Samaritan woman experiences her journey of faith. She comes to the well as an ordinary water fetcher/carrier, now she’s departing as a sharer of the gospel message. She comes to the well to satisfy her physical thirst, now she’s filled with the grace of living water. God is willing to walk with us, and he waits.
We can sum up the gospel of today in two ways: the journey of faith for the new members of the church and our own journey of faith during the period of Lent.
As we witness the RCIA candidates go through the Scrutinies this Sunday, let us accompany them on their journey as Jesus accompanied the Samaritan woman. Let us guide them to see clearly the light of Christ. Witnessing to the gospel message can be challenging, but our gentle presence can help bring God to them in a joyful and loving way.
On our part, we must ask Jesus to fill us with the living water. We must work to discover more about Jesus, his heart, his kindness, and his character. Once captivated by his love, we will fall in love with him all over again.
Readings: 1st- Ex. 17:3-7; 2nd- Rom. 5:1-2, 5-8; Gospel- Jn. 4:5-42