Lent 3 A - Samaritan Woman at the Well

From Fr. Tony Kadavil's Collection:

1: A Samaritan woman evangelist:
There is a Greek monastery at Mount Athos in which nothing female is allowed. Men can enter but not women, roosters but not hens, horses but not mares, bulls but not cows.  Armed guards patrol the border to insure that nothing feminine passes the gates.  It has been this way for more than 700 years. [Arnold Prater, The Presence, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1993).]  Separate but definitely not equal: that has been the attitude toward women of many churches through the ages.  So, it's really remarkable that this particular Samaritan evangelist happens to be a woman.  She would be as surprised about it as anybody.  When she first met Jesus, she was surprised that even he talked to her.  Once converted, she became an evangelist, enthusiastically introducing Jesus to her fellow villagers. 

2: "No drinkin' and no dancin’ area”!  
 A couple of Catholic young men from the North were visiting a dusty little town in the back country of West Texas.  It was a hard-shell Baptist town in the Bible belt of the South: "No drinkin' and no dancin’ area”!  But these two were strangers; so they asked a cowboy where they might get a drink.  "In this town," said the cowboy, "we use whiskey only for snakebite: to wash the wound as first aid."  Then he added slyly, "If you guys are so thirsty for whiskey, there's only one poisonous snake in this town and that is in the zoo.  So you better get a ticket to the zoo, go to the snake park, get hold of a cobra through the iron bar of its cage and give it a big hug! The zoo keeper will appear immediately with whisky.”  The woman at the well had a mighty thirst, a thirst like that of these young guys for whiskey, a thirst so big that it led her through five husbands and who knows what else.  And still she was thirsty — a thirst caused by the absence of God in her life.  A meeting with Jesus gave her the living waters of friendship with Jesus and the anointing of the Spirit of God which restored her dignity and changed her life.  

3: “Here comes my friend, Douglass!”
Carl Sandberg describes the firm stand that Abraham Lincoln took against racial prejudice. One particularly stirring drama unfolded on the night of Lincoln’s second Inaugural Ball.  He had just delivered the blazing address in which he made famous the words, “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work that we are in.”  That evening in a White House reception room, Lincoln stood shaking hands with a long line of well-wishers.  Someone informed him that Frederick Douglass was at the door, but security wouldn’t let him in because he was black.  Lincoln broke off from high-level protocol and instructed security to bring  Douglass to him, at once.  The crowd of guests hushed as the great black leader appeared at the door.  In a booming voice that filled the silence, Lincoln unashamedly announced, “Here comes my friend, Douglass!”  And then turning to Douglass, Lincoln said, “I am glad to see you.  I saw you in the crowd today, listening to my address.  There is no man in the country whose opinion I value more than yours.  I want to know what you think of it.” Those who see and respect the rich human qualities in those individuals whom others reject blaze pioneer trails through thick jungles of bigotry.  The next generation can walk on the paths made by such giants as Lincoln who drew inspiration from Jesus’ example and teaching!  Today’s Gospel shows us Jesus’ encounter with a Samaritan woman and a social outcast and gives us a model to follow in this world.


One of the commencement traditions at Harvard University is Senior Class Chapel. On the morning of their graduation, seniors gather in Memorial Church to hear the minister offer words of solace and encouragement as they leave "the Yard" to take their places in the world.

The 1998 senior class heard the unvarnished truth from the Rev. Peter Gomes, minister at Harvard and the author of several books on the Bible, including The Good Book and Sermons. In his gentle ringing tones, that call to mind a cross between a Shakespearean actor and the TV sitcom character Frasier, the inimitable Doctor Gomes took no prisoners as he began: 

"You are going to be sent out of here for good, and most of you aren't ready to go. The president is about to bid you into the fellowship of educated men and women and," - and here he paused and spoke each word slowly for emphasis - "you know just - how - dumb - you - really - are." 

The senior class cheered in agreement. 

"And worse than that," Doctor Gomes continued, "the world - and your parents in particular - are going to expect that you will be among the brightest and best. But you know that you can no longer fool all the people even some of the time. By noontime today, you will be out of here. By tomorrow you will be history. By Saturday, you will be toast. That's a fact - no exceptions, no extensions."

"Nevertheless, there is reason to hope," Doctor Gomes promised. "The future is God's gift to you. God will not let you stumble or fall. God has not brought you this far to this place to abandon you or leave you here alone and afraid. The God of Israel never stumbles, never sleeps, never goes on sabbatical. Thus, my beloved and bewildered young friends, do not be afraid." 

What Doctor Gomes did for the senior class at Harvard, Jesus does for the woman at the well. Before we take a look at the story let me let you in on a fascinating fact. You can go to Israel today and take a journey to Samaria to the town of Sychar. A place the passage of time seems to have forgotten... 

Today's gospel story is all about a miracle molecule called water.

Any water people here? I don't mean sun people who gather at the water because of the sun. I mean true water people. Swimmers? Surfers? Fishermen/women? Boaters? Bathers? Hot-tubbers? Islanders?

Anyone here ever spend a night on an island somewhere? If you live on an island (like we do--Orcas Island, Washington State), you're surrounded on all sides by water, cut off from easy access to the rest of the state, and the country.

Islanders are water people.

But the water that surrounds an island is not so much a barrier as it's a buffer. All that liquid cushions the blows that the off-island world throws our way. Islanders aren't cut off so much as they are bound together. Sometimes for better. Sometimes for worse. But always until the next ferry arrives. If we let our lives go with the flow, the water makes us different.

When we read passages out of the Old or New Testaments, we must always remember that our Bible stories are about desert people. Even more than the island people described above, however, desert people are intimately bound by life-giving, life-sustaining water.

In fact, the miracle molecule of water is always a fact of life or death for the children of Israel. The devastation of droughts changed the face of empires. The absence or presence of water created civilizations or set whole populations on the move.

Again and again throughout the Bible, it's this miracle molecule that transforms God's chosen people... 


 Look Around You 

William Easum, in his book, Dancing with Dinosaurs, suggests that the dinosaurs ate only the vegetation that was right at their eye level. With their massive appetites, they quickly devoured all the food they could easily see. Then he writes: "Still, food was plentiful if the dinosaur merely bent down to reach the vegetation. But perhaps the dinosaur's neck was too stiff to bend down to the vegetation, or the dinosaur was too nearsighted to see the vegetation. Perhaps dinosaurs became extinct because of their unwillingness or inability to see what was happening all around them" [p. 15]. Do you think that he could be making an analogy to the church? Jesus says, "Look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting." If they took that literally and looked around, whom would they see?
Brian P. Stoffregen, Exegetical Notes

 Before I Build a Wall... 

One of my favorite poets is Robert Frost. Of all his writings, my favorite is "Mending Wall." It's the story of two New England farmers who go out each spring to mend the rock fences that have fallen down over the winter. They do it every spring, under the belief that "good fences make good neighbors." But this particular spring, one farmer is beginning to question that long held assumption. As they work their respective sides of the fence, wearing their fingers raw with the rocks, he begins to reason. "He is all pine and I am all apple orchard. My apple trees will never get across and eat the cones under his pines. Why is it that we need to build these fences back every spring?" Then he says this:
Before I built a wall, I'd ask to know
What I am walling in or walling out
And to whom I am like to give an offense
For something there is that doesn't love a wall
That wants it down.

Friends come in when the rest of the world is going out. And this day Jesus stopped to befriend the woman at the well. That's the Jesus I want to know. Do you know Him?

J. Howard Olds, Faith Breaks,
A New Creation 

Once there was a man on a train going across the desert in Arizona. He was the only person in the car who had not pulled down the window shades to keep out the glare of the hot sun on the parched earth. In contrast to the other passengers, he kept looking out his window, and seemed actually to enjoy the dismal scene.  

After a while the curious man seated across the aisle, asked, "Sir, what do you see in that wasteland that makes you smile?"  

"Oh," he replied," I'm in the irrigation business, and I was thinking if we could only get water to this land that the desert would become a garden."  

That's what Jesus is teaching His disciples. He wants us to see the world's people as He sees them. Every one of them is precious in His sight. By divine grace, they can become a new creation, made beautiful in holiness. 

Robert E. Coleman, Evangelism: Behold the Harvest!
I Can't Remember
 A few years ago, rumors spread that a certain Catholic woman was having visions of Jesus. The archbishop decided to check her out. 

'Is it true, m'am, that you have visions of Jesus?' asked the cleric.
'Yes,' the woman replied.
'Well, the next time you have a vision, I want you to ask Jesus to tell you the sins that I confessed in my last confession. Please call me if anything happens.'

Ten days later the woman notified her spiritual leader of a recent apparition.
Within the hour the archbishop arrived. 'What did Jesus say?' he asked.
She took his hand and gazed deep into his eyes. 'Bishop,' she said, 'these are his exact words: I CAN'T REMEMBER. ' 

Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up and Burnt Out, 116-117
An Unexpected Evangelist

 This wonderful man was not well educated and his manner was somewhat rough and crude. He became a Christian and took the Lord's requirement seriously. He kept pestering his pastor to put him to work. Finally, the minister handed him a list of ten names with this explanation: "These are all members of the church, but they seldom attend. Some of them are prominent people in the community. Contact them about being more faithful. Here is some church stationary to write letters. Get them back in church."

The man accepted the challenge with rugged determination and enthusiasm. About three weeks later a letter from a prominent physician whose name had been on the list arrived at the church office. Inside was a large check and a brief note: "Dear Pastor, Enclosed is my check for $1,000 to help make up for my missing church so much, but be assured that I will be present this Lord's Day and each Lord's Day following. I will not by choice miss services again. Sincerely... P.S. Would you please tell your secretary that there is only one `T' in dirty and no `C' in Skunk."

Ah, those unexpected evangelists. To this day, that nameless Samaritan woman, the first unexpected evangelist, is revered in many cultures. In southern Mexico, La Samaritana is remembered on the fourth Friday in Lent, when specially-flavored water is given to commemorate her gift of water to Jesus. The Orthodox know her as St. Photini, or Svetlana in Russian. Her name means "equal to the apostles," and she is honored as apostle and martyr on the Feast of the Samaritan Woman. 

Can you do what she did? Invite friends and neighbors? Of course, you can. 

David E. Leininger, Collected Sermons,

 Criticizing Evangelistic Efforts 

One day a lady criticized D. L. Moody for his methods of evangelism in attempting to win people to the Lord. Moody's reply was "I agree with you. I don't like the way I do it either. Tell me, how do you do it?" The lady replied, "I don't do it." Moody retorted, "Then I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it."  

James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) p. 178.
That First Longing

Carl Jung, the great psychoanalyst, tried to explain why so many people were fascinated by UFO phenomena. He wrote: "We are all born to believe. The eyes may be wrong, but the psyche is right. We are all looking for a perfect model of ourselves."

C. S. Lewis made the same point when he observed: "Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise. The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning can really satisfy. I am not now speaking of what would ordinarily be called unsuccessful marriages, or holidays, or learned careers. I am speaking of the best possible ones. There was something we grasped at, in that first moment of longing, which just fades away in reality. I think everyone knows what I mean. The wife may be a good wife, and the hotels and scenery may have been excellent, and chemistry may be a very interesting job, but something has evaded us." (quoted in The Joyful Christian)

Robert Bachelder, Between Dying and Birth, CSS Publishing Company
 Keeping Perspective

 "This is the transcript of an ACTUAL radio conversation of a US naval ship with Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland in October, 1995. Radio conversation released by the Chief of Naval Operations 10-10-95.

Americans: Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision.
Canadians: Recommend you divert YOUR course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.
Americans: This is the Captain of a US Navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR course.
Canadians: No. I say again, you divert YOUR course.


Canadians: "This is a lighthouse." 
(This story had been challenged by many as only a joke created by someone - TK)