She has a history… fears… wounds… and sorrows. Secrets too. The woman in the gospel today has a history– she is a woman with a past. Some gospel commentaries will tell you that her past is generally seen as one of promiscuity. The evidence? Five husbands and now living unmarried with a sixth man. Looked at but not seen. Labelled yet nameless. She remains unknown to everyone. Everyone, that is, except Jesus.
How easily we forget that women of her day, and for that matter many women in our world today, had very little choice or control over their own lives. If she is divorced it is because the men divorced her; she had no right of divorce. If she’s not divorced, then she has suffered the death of five husbands. Five times left alone, of no value, five times starting over. Maybe some divorced her– maybe some died. We don’t know. Either one is a tragedy for her life.
People like her, people like us, people with a past, often live in fear of being found out. It is not just the fear that another will know the truth, the facts, about us– but that that they will do so without ever really seeing us and without ever really knowing us. We all thirst to be seen and to be known at a deep, intimate level– to be accepted. We all want to pour our lives out to one who knows us– to let them drink from the depths of our very being. That is exactly what Jesus is asking of this woman with a past when he says, “Give me a drink.” It is the invitation to let herself be known. To be known is to be loved… and to be loved is to be known.
To live life without being known is a dry, desolate existence. It leaves us to live a dehydrated life thirsting for a well to quench our thirst. Think of the variety of wells to which we turn in life to satisfy our thirst. For some, the well is relationships– to be popular. For others, it is the well of financial success and material comfort. For many, it is the well of social status and influence, or power and control. For others, it is the well of physical fitness and “body beautiful.” And for some, it is the well of alcohol and drugs. I have named just a few of the many wells that day after day, month after months, year after year, we go to drink. Many people have often drunk too long from wells that never satisfy.
There is, however, another well. It is the well that we know as Jesus Christ. This is the well that washes us clean of our past. This is the well from which new life and new possibilities spring forth. This is the well that frees us from the patterns and habits that keep us living as thirsty people.
And that is precisely the well that the Samaritan woman in today’s gospel found. She intended to go to the same old well to which she had gone for years. But today is different. Jesus holds before her two realities of her life: the reality of what is and the reality of what might be. He brings her past to the light of the noontime day. “You have had five husbands,” he says, “and the one you have now is not your husband.” It is not a statement of condemnation, but simply a statement of what is. He tells her everything she has done– she has been found out. But it doesn’t end there. Jesus is more interested in her future than her past. He wants to satisfy her thirst, more than judge her past. In other words, he looks beyond the past and sees a woman dying of thirst: a woman thirsting to be loved, to be seen, to be accepted, to be included, to be forgiven, to be known. Her thirst will never be quenched in a satisfying way by the external wells of life. And I can say in a confident way: neither will ours.
Jesus proclaims to this nameless woman: “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.” This is the living water of new life, new possibilities, and freedom from the past. This living water is Jesus’ own life. Christ satisfied her thirst and she left her water jar behind– a striking detail in the gospel– she left her water jar behind!
Jesus is calling not only this woman, but all sinners, to this same well. He knows our past, but is more concerned about our future. Most Christians probably think that we will be punished some day for our sins… but, to me, it makes more sense to recognize that we are punished by our sins. Jesus calls all sinners into deeper communion through love—and the sin that should really concern us is not found in our past, but in remaining ignorant or dismissive of the gift Jesus is trying to offer us now. Jesus invites us to leave our water jars behind and drink from the well that is him.
Until we come to the well of Christ’s life within us, we will continue returning to the dry wells of our culture… and we will continue to live thirsty. So, think for a moment: from what wells do you drink? How much longer will you carry your water jar to the various wells of this world? There is another well, one that promises life, one by which we are known and loved. Come to the well of Christ’s life, Christ’s love, Christ’s presence that is already in you. Come to the well that is Christ himself… and then drink deeply. Drink deeply until you become the one you have drunk.
Our sharing in the Eucharist each weekend is the most important way that we drink from that well as a community of faith. For several weeks, we are sacrificing that opportunity for the good of the wider community in the face of the Coronavirus. When we are able to return to our regular Eucharistic celebrations, may we appreciate the significance of this sacred time each week in our lives with greater clarity.