We are all entitled to speak to Jesus

The Good News for us here today is that we don’t need to be collecting water at a well to speak to Jesus, we don’t need to be alone in the midday sun, we can speak to the Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit any time we want – through prayer.

Mar 10, 2023

Reflecting on our Sunday Readings with Fr Dr Joseph Lubula

3rd Sunday of Lent (A)
Readings: Exodus 17:3-7;
Roman 5:1-2, 5-8;
Gospel: John 4:5-42

When was the last time you had to go and speak to someone that you didn’t want to? Perhaps asking for help in a store? Perhaps asking someone to move their car which was blocking your gate? Asking for something, asking perhaps for a favour? How did it make you feel? Nervous? Needing a dose of courage? Awkward?

Or perhaps even worse, what is your reaction when someone you don’t know approaches you and asks you for something? Someone you’ve never met before asks you to go out of your way to help them despite your having no acquaintance with this person before. How does that make you feel? Threatened? Nervous? Unsure of what will happen next?

Our Gospel reading begins with an encounter at a well between two strangers, which leads to a conversation. And both parties leave the conversation changed by it, despite uncertainties between the two. Two people who wouldn’t normally meet or interact, question each other and will not be the same following this exchange. They both started the encounter needing something sustaining for life – water and food but leave the encounter having received something different.

At first sight it appears that this is a conversation between Jesus and an unnamed woman at Jacob’s Well in Sychar. However, by social convention, this isn’t a conversation that should happen. This is a single male talking to a female, alone, in a traditionally female space – the well. Then there’s the fact that the woman is a Samaritan – not an expected meeting of people – there’s a reason the Good Samaritan is a surprise to the original hearers in Luke’s Gospel. Years of antipathy between Samaritans and Jews, over cultural practices, over religious practices.

Then there is the fact that the woman has been divorced multiple times. However, this says more about what has been done to the woman rather than what she has done. In this time, a woman could be divorced for a younger woman, someone perceived to be more beautiful, for any reason and in a society where a woman’s worth and safety are defined by her marriage and childbearing status.

This woman is set up as an outcast, not only by her gender, her ethnic status and her personal history. Definitely not the kind of person Jesus should be talking to by convention or by the type His disciples think He should be speaking with yet, Jesus does speak to her. Actually, it’s more than a conversation they have; she questions Him and recognises Jesus for who He is.

Jesus, in speaking to the woman at the well, has overcome social conditions and the busyness of the day – what does Jesus have to overcome so we can hear Him to speak to us? Is it busyness, is it challenging the way we think things should be, is it that we’re not listening, looking, observing and discerning Jesus speaking to us? Lenten disciplines are often about clearing space – not doing something to create space – whether it be living with less, creating time, creating absence all in order to try and hear God more, consider our relationship with God more. We should not be the same after our Lenten encounters with God in the same way that neither Jesus nor the woman at the well are the same after their encounter.

The woman, because she is a human made in God’s image and beloved, recognises who Jesus is – a Prophet, then the Messiah. The woman recognises this because she is human, despite what social conditions at the time may have classified her as. Jesus tells her He is the living water – living water necessary for life, as with the water that began this conversation, but living water has an impact way beyond that of water. Consuming living water, through an encounter with God – Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer leaves us changed, nourished and formed – there are opportunities to encounter God through Scripture and prayer, whether alone or in community.

Despite her status in society and the difference in status and social convention around gender, nationality, ethnicity and social standing, the Samaritan woman still had a conversation with Jesus. Jesus asked for water to drink, invited the woman into an encounter with God incarnate and the woman had the courage, the self-assurance and the need to respond to Jesus, not with an immediate yes, no, handing Him the water requested.

The Woman at the Well had a conversation with Jesus, sharing her questions, her life, including the things she was less comfortable about. Jesus can be confrontational, and He can be compassionate, He can be generous. Jesus here, through conversation, helps the woman grow in faith, she leaves the encounter changed, assured of her place as a beloved child of God, assured that she has something to say, assured that she can have courage to share what has happened to her with others.

The Good News for us here today is that we don’t need to be collecting water at a well to speak to Jesus, we don’t need to be alone in the midday sun, we can speak to the Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit any time we want – through prayer.

No matter who we are, no matter who we think we are, no matter what we are afraid of or think of ourselves for our reactions to things around us, we can have a conversation with Jesus through prayer. No matter where we are, whether at home or in a car or in a place of worship, we don’t have to wait to speak to Jesus – the invitation is open at all times. How will we respond to that invitation?

(Fr Dr Joseph Lubula is from the Diocese of Lugazi in Uganda.)

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