Today Jesus meets the Samaritan woman by Jacob’s well.
St Augustine captures the energy of the story. “A woman came. She is a symbol of the Church not yet justified, but about to be justified. Justification follows from the conversation. She came in ignorance, she found Christ, and he enters into conversation with her. Let us see what it is about. Let us see why a Samaritan woman came to draw water…” The Samaritans – who still exist by the way, few in number, in Nablus and Tel Aviv – were, for the Jews, heretics or schismatics. They believed in the same God, they accepted the Law of Moses, but they had nothing to do with the Temple in Jerusalem. They had their own Temple on Mount Gerizim. Relations between Jews and Samaritans then were not unlike those between Israelis and Palestinians now. There were often hostile incidents. So this is an abnormal meeting. ‘You are a Jew, says the woman, and you ask me a Samaritan for a drink?’
‘Let us see what it is about…’ The Gospel gives us a five minute video clip of this Samaritan woman. The Eastern tradition has named her (and canonized her): St Photina. Let’s call her Samantha. We feel we know her. She’s feisty. She’s argumentative. She has had, shall we say, an interesting love-life: 5 ex-husbands and now another man. She could be featured in Hello magazine. But she’s open. She’s intrigued by this Jew beside the well. And something happens to Samantha. She’s not the same person at the end of this meeting. Jesus is actually Man no. 7 in her life, but someone on a different plane. “Let us see what it is about…” What happened to her? Well, looking forward to Easter, let’s say this: Jesus resurrects her. He has not yet risen himself, but he is already the Resurrection and the Life. His humanity is already the instrument of his life-giving divinity. And she experiences what Catholic tradition calls “the first resurrection”. The “second resurrection” is that from the dead. The first is that from unbelief and sin: the resurrection to the life of the Spirit. In the Gospel, we see Samantha coming to faith. She is, as St Paul puts it, “judged righteous and at peace with God”, justified. She enters, or at least is moving towards, the state of grace, of friendship with God. What a telling detail it is that, at end of her conversation, she “puts down her water jar” and runs back to the town. Her horizons have been expanded, her life enriched. She has now heard of the living water – the Holy Spirit – this Man has to offer. She has learned about worship of the Father in spirit and truth, no longer tied to a place. She has been catechized. She has had her whole chaotic life revealed to her; she has undergone the Scrutinies. She is known. “He speaks to the woman, says St Augustine, and gradually enters into her heart…He is already teaching her” – a catechumen. Today’s Preface says that our Lord “created the gift of faith in her [and] kindled the fire of divine love” in her. So, she leaves the water jar. She’s thirsty for more than ordinary water now. There’s something and Someone new in her life. She even becomes a missionary, telling her fellow townsfolk: here’s this guy who has told me my whole life story. Can he be the Christ? In modern terms, Samantha goes straight home and puts it all on her Facebook page. And her many “followers” all pour out to see him.
So, we can say that Jesus has resurrected her.
We are en route to Easter. At the Easter Vigil our catechumens will receive the living water, springing up to eternal life, in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. They will receive the Body and Blood of the risen Christ. Others will enter into full communion with the Church, which is also the Body of the risen Christ. We will all renew and deepen our faith. Christ will be rising everywhere. He will Easter in us. He is rising everywhere all the time: every time we turn from anger to patience, every time we show care for one another, whenever we push away the negativity, every time we go to Confession, every time we receive his Body. Christ was born, lived and died, all so that he could rise in himself and rise in us. This needn’t mean we all “feel” risen all the time. It’s realler and deeper than that. It means there is a living water within us, turning us again and again towards the ocean of God’s love. There’s faith and hope to draw on. There’s the possibility of prayer. There’s a belonging to the whole Body of Christ which carries us and sustains like a mother. There’s the Communion of Saints. We are part of an indestructible whole. There’s something more than the endless filling and emptying of our life’s water jar. Something different in us. Someone different: the risen Christ.
And the postscript is this – Samantha lived it too – that if the risen Christ is in us, then we can raise and carry one another. Through our ordinary living and loving, working and praying, through our suffering too, through our hands and our looks and our words, the great mystery of Easter can burgeon everywhere.
“Let us see what it’s about…” Let’s have that conversation with Christ which resurrects us.
St Mary’s Cathedral, Aberdeen, Readings of Year A