Last Sunday (yesterday) the Gospel reading was from John, about The Woman at the Well, one of the longer Gospel readings in the year, even the abbreviated version is longer than usual. (This is only an excerpt.)
Gospel of John Chapter 4
Jesus came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there. Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well. It was about noon. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” —For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.— Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink, ‘ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where then can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?” Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
There is an interesting commentary, part of the Liturgy of the Hours, the Office of Readings for the Third Sunday in Lent.
From a treatise on John by Saint Augustine, bishop
A Samaritan woman came to draw water
A woman came. She is a symbol of the Church not yet made righteous but about to be made righteous. Righteousness follows from the conversation. She came in ignorance, she found Christ, and he enters into conversation with her. Let us see what it is about, let us see why a Samaritan woman came to draw water. The Samaritans did not form part of the Jewish people: they were foreigners. The fact that she came from a foreign people is part of the symbolic meaning, for she is a symbol of the Church. The Church was to come from the Gentiles, of a different race from the Jews.
We must then recognize ourselves in her words and in her person, and with her give our own thanks to God. She was a symbol, not the reality; she foreshadowed the reality, and the reality came to be. She found faith in Christ, who was using her as a symbol to teach us what was to come. She came then to draw water. She had simply come to draw water, in the normal way of man or woman.
Jesus says to her: Give me water to drink. For his disciples had gone to the city to buy food. The Samaritan woman therefore says to him: How is it that you, though a Jew, ask me for water to drink, though I am a Samaritan woman? For Jews have nothing to do with Samaritans.
The Samaritans were foreigners; Jews never used their utensils. The woman was carrying a pail for drawing water. She was astonished that a Jew should ask her for a drink of water, a thing that Jews would not do. But the one who was asking for a drink of water was thirsting for her faith.
Listen now and learn who it is that asks for a drink. Jesus answered her and said: If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink,” perhaps you might have asked him and he would have given you living water.
He asks for a drink, and he promises a drink. He is in need, as one hoping to receive, yet he is rich, as one about to satisfy the thirst of others. He says: If you knew the gift of God. The gift of God is the Holy Spirit. But he is still using veiled language as he speaks to the woman and gradually enters into her heart. Or is he already teaching her? What could be more gentle and kind than the encouragement he gives? If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink,” perhaps you might ask and he would give you living water.
What is this water that he will give if not the water spoken of in Scripture: With you is the fountain of life? How can those feel thirst who will drink deeply from the abundance in your house?
He was promising the Holy Spirit in satisfying abundance. She did not yet understand. In her failure to grasp his meaning, what was her reply? The woman says to him, Master, give me this drink, so that I may feel no thirst or come here to draw water. Her need forced her to this labor, her weakness shrank from it. If only she could hear those words: Come to me, all who labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Jesus was saying this to her, so that her labors might be at an end; but she was not yet able to understand.
Do WE understand? I was raised in Protestant Land, my one Grandfather was a Baptist Deacon (not the same thing at all as the Catholic Deacon), in a part of the USA which was culturally Dixie even if the geography was north of the Ohio. Let’s face it, Southern Gospel has the best music for non-liturgical purposes. (Mozart and Bach and Handel have a few words to say about the other.)
Well, on the nature of a conversation, or even a short stroll with Christ, our Protestant siblings have a song or two about the experience.
This version by Red Foley, but about every Country & Western singer ever has recorded it. Nobody seems to know who wrote it, but it has been a staple of the Southern Gospel songbook for many years.
What would we say, just walking along the road to — anywhere — with the Lord of the Universe? How would we react? Could we say anything?
O would we just learn what it means to be like a little child and just trust, and enjoy the walk?
Here we are, almost half-way through Lent. Why are we doing this “Lenten” stuff? What sadistic prelate contrived the idea of FASTING, ABSTINENCE, and other acts of MORTIFICATION, not to mention Prayer and Works of Mercy? How does it help? What does it help to do, anyway? Why make people suffer? Because you can? Or is there some other purpose in mind?
The “Forty” days of Lent are not just a time to feel miserable and hope God notices your sackcloth and ashes. (Although it may involve some of that.) No, as the prelude to Easter, Lent is a time to get closer to Jesus. To find Him in your daily life, on the road, in a boat, or at a well.
It is a time to allow Him to speak, not to your ears (though that helps), but to your heart, to your soul, your Spirit, your Being. Wherever, we go, He will go with us, to help us do right, to turn (or re-turn) to Him. (Relentless is He. Give up He does not.) But here in Lent, we are reminded that while He goes with us, it is better if we go with him. Not our way, but His way. Wherever He goes.
And that is what the old Gospel song asks for.
Just a closer walk with Jesus, no matter where he is headed (even to Calvary… and beyond.)
Protestants have lots of songs about walking with Jesus. Some of them are real schmaltzy, and some are to the heart. Here’s a couple.
Put your hand in the hand of the man, sung by Loretta Lynn (The “Rose Garden” Lady.)
In the Garden (would anyone deny Mahalia Jackson isn’t Southern and Gospel?)
The message is simple. A time spent with Jesus Christ, even a short one, as the Woman at the Well, can be a life-changer.
OTOH, a long acquaintance may do no good (vide Judas). As we learn in The Godfather III, about the dry stone.
Jesus Christ will transform us, from what we have been, into what we can gloriously become. But we have to let him. In that sense, we all are “Europe”.
This Season, perhaps we can open up that Christ may live in us. Drink deep.