Time is flying – third Sunday of Lent – and what have we learned? What have we lost, or renounced, or let go of, that we should have? Has our level of fear decreased a bit? Have we understood better that the ‘fear of God’ that we hear so much about doesn’t mean fear of God as we were taught it meant – fear of getting punished when we get caught. It means what the Samaritan woman at the well discovered it meant one sweltering noon.
Today’s gospel draws us into one of the most Shakespearian dramatic encounters we have of the life of Jesus. One day, hot and tired by his walk, he stopped to rest by a well. His disciples went off to the shops and he was left alone. A woman from an alien racial group appeared to get water. From what she says later in the conversation that ensued, we guess that she didn’t want to come to the well in the evening when the other woman of the village liked to come and gossip. Because she herself was the object of their gossip. Like Jesus, she was alone.
It’s worth reading the whole story: John 4: 5-42, which must be one of the most examined and commented upon texts of any tradition.
Her solitude had not turned her into a bitter or frightened woman. But she was sharp-tongued and (having had five husbands) unfrightened by men even in one of the most misogynist of cultures. The verbal sparring between her and Jesus at the beginning, shows her spunkiness and his openness to people where they are, without any condescending sense of his own superior importance. This clash of personalities, as equals, produces a dramatic result. She returns to her original innocence (and to her community) and she recognizes, even in a male figure, the truth, wisdom and love that was (we might imagine) what took her through her serial relationships.
She was fearless but she had not, till that hot noontime, yet found the partner in intimacy who allowed her to use this fearless freedom in order to love.
If not, are we looking in the right place? Might a well be a good place to start?