by Alison McCrary, CSJ
Alison is a Second Year Novice in the Congregation of St. Joseph and a social justice lawyer. She is currently pursuing her Masters in Systematics Theology and Scripture at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Illinois.
Living Water from a Deep Well: Springing Forth a New Consciousness for Disciples Working for Justice
Lenten Reflection for Sunday, March 23, 2014
Lent is a time of saying yes in a new way: yes to being who we are intended to be and called to be. In today’s Gospel of John 4:5-42, Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well demonstrates his living of a life of loving all that is unloved and erupting the status quo. In the passage, Jesus states that he is “living water” (4:11) and thus creates a new flow, a new way of thinking about God, creation, humanity, and the role of discipleship. After nearly 13.8 billion years of existence in the universe, God in the form of the incarnate Jesus brings a new consciousness into the world that calls us to boundary breaking, to engage in serious conversations with those who are marginalized, and to take on public roles in the following of unioning love. Jesus lives out of this oneness modeling it for us and empowering all who follow him to act in the name of love by healing and reconciling all that is non-love. This new religious consciousness bursts forth from Jesus and is midwifed by the Samaritan woman.
Though nameless and often misinterpreted, the Samaritan woman is a model for discipleship and for our spiritual journey. She exemplifies our own struggle for clarity, a clarity in knowing what we believe is one of life’s great sacred works. She asks deep and meaningful questions and engages in challenging dialogue. The process is deep and long. It is about knowing ourselves well enough to know our hungers and thirsts and what satisfies us. This gospel passage is a reflection on that journey to true worship, our oneness with God.
Jesus and his ministry were not bound by social conventions. Jesus lived in unrestrained love. He lived inwardly free of from laws and customs that hindered community and wholeness. In doing so, he does the unthinkable for his time.
In this passage, the Samaritan woman challenges Jesus’ boundaries and Jesus is open to being stretched and changed. In this encounter with the Samaritan woman, Jesus breaks three Jewish customs. First, he speaks to a woman (which he also does in Mark 5:34, John 20:17-18, and Luke 13:12). Second, he speaks to a Samaritan, a group that Jewish people traditionally despised. Third, he asked her to get him a drink of water which would have made him ceremonially unclean from using her cup or jar. Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman exemplifies racial, ethnic, gender, and religious reconciliation and breaks through traditional boundaries. In fact, Jesus’ hunger and thirst is satisfied by the dialogue with the woman and so the Samaritan mission was placed into her hands. It was not initiated nor under the control of the men. (4: 35-38) and Jesus’ actions legitimized female participation in the role of discipleship. These scriptures demonstrate the call to inclusive discipleship during Jesus’ times, the early years of Christianity, and for all people today. They demonstrate the creation and evolution of an inclusive church, one in which all are to be equals and co-disciples.
Evolving more and more toward wholeness and inclusivity, we are each called to go through the “Samarias” of the world today. In fact, it is a necessity of discipleship. In this symbolic story, it was “necessary” (4:4) for Jesus to go through Samaria to meet the woman at the well, engage in significant conversation with her in public, and welcome her to the living water. This is not about a physical need, but about a moral imperative.
In our own lives, this calls us to shatter and transcend today’s boundaries of religion, gender, moral, and other stigmas in our society. Many boundaries exist in our country and world: of different religions, of the growing division between the rich and the poor, of our disconnect to the environment and creation, of the disparities of salary, job promotion, and hiring of women in the workplace, of places of human torture like Guantanamo, or of those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, or asexual. What are the “unthinkables” we might be called to today? What are the ancient divisions we are called to heal? What transformative encounters do we need to create? The list of today’s “Samarias” are endless and to promote a culture of inclusivity and wholeness, we must enter into and engage in meaningful conversation to bring about our common and shared humanity.
The Samaritan woman is a leader in her community who knows how to ask questions, the right questions for her time. What are the questions we must ask today about our role in our church, our communities, and the world? Through the asking, pondering, and answering of these questions, we may come to know, like the Samaritan woman, what it truly means to “worship.” (4:22). Also like the Samaritan woman, we can identify what it is that we must leave behind and what the “water jar” (4: 28) of our life is so that we can step into something new.
I invite you to prayerfully sit before a glass or jar of water today. What do you most thirst for? What answers do you long for? Where do you feel called to be an agent of transformation today or during this season of Lent? What “water jar” might you need to leave behind to step into something new this Lent? Pray with this as you drink the water slowly and reflectively.