The webpage of the Youth Ministry of the Irish Province of Augustinians

Third Sunday of Lent, Year A - Twenty-third of March, 2014

The six weeks of Lent that we are making our way through, from the earliest years of the church, was always a time that was dedicated to preparing for baptism. Catechumens, those who were preparing for baptism, would go through the final stages of their preparation which would have lasted for anything from 2 to 3 years. During Lent they would be presented to the community gathered for their Sunday Eucharist and would eventually have been baptised during the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night.
It is for this reason that the Sunday readings during Lent focus so much on the faith journey of the disciple. On the first Sunday we had the temptations of Jesus in the desert which all pointed to one thing – do we want to follow God or the devil? This is the first choice the disciple must make. On the second Sunday, last week, we read of the Transfiguration of Jesus. We saw how the disciples participated in that event which transfigured them too – they saw what they could be; they saw where the path of discipleship could lead them.
This week we meet the woman at the well which is possibly the most complete story of discipleship that we have in the New Testament. It describes the faith-journey each one of us is travelling. This is the journey from when before we believed, through the times of uncertainty and doubt, to a mature and committed faith which becomes also a witness to those around us. 
Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem – the most important religious act for an observant Jew; on his way to the Temple where, to enter, he must be ritually pure – in other words, he must have nothing to do with anything that is not kosher – he meets this woman. She is not just any woman.  For a start she is a Samaritan. She is clearly not a Jew. She does not share the true faith. And then there is something else interesting about this woman. She had gone to the well on her own and at one of the hottest times of the day. She was there, in all likelihood, because she couldn’t be there when all the others went. It becomes clear later that she had a bit of what you might call a “reputation” having made her way through five husbands before arriving at number six. Not only is this woman not a Jew, she is even an outcast from among her own people. This meeting is clearly set up as an encounter between committed faith and complete non-belief.
Notice Jesus. He sits down. When Jesus sits down there is always something coming. In his day this is the position of the teacher. Each time in the New Testament that we are told that Jesus sat down we know that we are going to find something important being said. And that’s what we will see here. We are going to be taught something; and that something is about faith.
The episode begins very simply, with a question – why are you talking to me? This is the meeting of belief with unbelief – two things that seem to have very little to do with each other. However, as the meeting progresses we notice that the woman becomes transformed.
She begins by calling Jesus a Jew. Coming from a Samaritan, this was a put down. As the conversation continues, however, we can notice a gradual change. She begins to call Jesus “Sir”. A little further on and she is calling Jesus a prophet; and then, later, she accepts that he is the Messiah. This leads her to become the announcer of the Messiah for her own people. 
She begins by not wanting to know anything about Jesus; she changes and begins to see Jesus as a good man – just another good man, like many others; from this she comes to recognise him as a religious figure, a prophet; this opens the door for her to recognise him as the one who was to come, the one sent by God; her conviction about who Jesus was is what leads her to proclaim it to all those in her town.
I think we all remember the question that Jesus put to Peter: Who do you say I am? This is a question that each one of us needs to answer for ourselves. It is never going to be enough to just accept what others have told us. At some point we need to make the response to that question our own and, as a result, make the faith we have received our own too. It’s not an easy question to answer. It’s never easy to disentangle what others have told us from what we know ourselves. 
Anyway, our faith is not a static thing. Our faith will at times feel stronger or weaker; more confident or more challenged, depending on what we are living through at the time. This is where the figure of the Samaritan woman becomes so important. In this story we can see the story of how faith grows. The point is not that we all have to feel that we should be like the Samaritan woman at the end of the story. The point is that we are invited to see where we might locate ourselves on the journey; at what stage on her journey can we identify with her. The point is also that we are, very likely, with her at every point on the journey.
Depending on who or what we are dealing with, our faith may feel easier or more difficult. But notice Jesus again. He is still sitting. He hasn’t gone away. No matter what our experience of faith may be – no matter how we may feel about it, Jesus doesn’t go away. Jesus remains with us. For those preparing for baptism, and for us today, the message is the same – even when it is difficult to believe, we are not alone; and when we are able to open ourselves to belief in Jesus we can be transformed – transfigured.

Article posted on 23rd of March 2014

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