Third Sunday of Lent (A)

The encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob that we just heard as our gospel on this Third Sunday of Lent, has the makings of an epic drama. This is probably the longest and most detailed description in the gospels of an encounter between Jesus and another person. It has forty-two verses and we can divide it into four major ‘encounters’: (i) Jesus meets the woman by the well as someone who is looking for water to drink; (ii) the woman begins to discover that Jesus is probably more than just a traveller; (iii) Jesus offers her a fresh start; (iv) and finally the Samaritan woman brings others to meet Jesus. At every stage of this encounter, there seems to be an interplay between disclosure by Jesus and discovery by the Samaritan woman.

At the very beginning of the conversation, the woman addresses Jesus as ‘Sir’ (v. 11: You have no bucket, Sir). Then she discovers that Jesus is a no ordinary traveller; He is a prophet (v. 19); she goes on to ponder ‘could this be the Christ’ (v29); finally, together with the people of the town, she joins in saying ‘He is indeed the Saviour of the world’ (v.42). There seems to be a gradual progression of understanding who Jesus is – it starts with a stranger and a traveller but ends with the acknowledgement that He is the Saviour of the world. What really happened for such a dramatic change to occur?

There are various themes that we can reflect on, based on this encounter between Jesus and the woman, but in the spirit of Lent, I would like to reflect on the theme of reconciliation. There are many symbolic expressions in the season of Lent that remind us of the need for reconciliation namely ashes on Ash Wenesday, the colour purple, the stations of the cross, the sombre music and altar decoration, and fasting. Yet, the word reconciliation often turns our minds towards making ourselves right with God through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. However, reconciliation is dual-faceted… like two sides of the same coin and this is well depicted in the encounter between Jesus and the woman at the well.

The one side of the coin is the need to be reconciled with God which we all know is an integral part of our journey of discipleship. The Samaritan woman whom Jesus encounters is a woman of ill reputation – someone whom her community looked down upon and considered an outcast. This is evidenced by the fact that she goes to draw water at a time when no one else would go (the sixth hour – high noon). Through the discussion, she realises that Jesus is a prophet and that He wasn’t judging her but offering her a fresh start when He offers her the water of eternal life.

The other side of the coin is the need to be reconciled with one another. The woman who now recognises having received the mercy of God, goes to the very people who have rejected her to tell them about Jesus. It is not only the community that had rejected her but she too has rejected them. But now, after the encounter with Jesus, she goes back to her community without hesitation – a gesture that demonstrates that she has reconciled with the very people who had caused her the pain of being ostracised.

What key message can we learn from this encounter? I would like to offer just two take home points for our reflection: firstly, the love of God is unconditional. God loves us as individuals, accepting us with love and compassion. However, our human tendency is to judge others because of stereotypes, customs or prejudices. We have low tolerance of others when they are imperfect. Perhaps this Lent we can begin the journey of getting rid of our tendencies to judge and stereotype one another based on ethnicity, social status, and external appearances for these have no place in the Kingdom of God.

Secondly, by reaching out to the Samaritans, Jesus shows that His mission is to reconcile the entire world and not just a particular nation. This Lent is also a time of mission – to be reconciled with people whom we have held back forgiveness for whatever reasons. If we are to embrace Jesus as the Saviour of the world just as how the Samaritans did at the end of the encounter, let us learn to forgive, and for forgiveness to happen, we need to put aside our pride and embrace humility – just as how Jesus did when He was stripped of His garments before being nailed to the cross. Let our prayer be… ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’.