The readings today bring us the Gospel story of Jesus' conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob in Sychar. Having left Judea and traveling toward Galilee, Jesus goes to Samaria, a land of great danger and strife. Following the Assyrian invasion in about 722 B.C., the land of Samaria became a place of mixed Jewish and non-Jewish inhabitants who developed their own religious practices along the lines of Judiasm, but still rooted too in serving the non-Jewish inhabitant's other Gods. In the time of Christ, Samaria was a land of conflict between the Jews and the Samarians.
No wonder, then, the woman's surprise when Jesus speaks to her: "'How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?' (For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.)" (Jn 4, 9) Imagine the mistrust this woman must have felt in the presence of a Jewish man asking her for a drink. Jews and Samaritans did not speak and shared nothing. Yet, here is Christ, talking with a Samaritan woman. What is more, as the conversation progresses, Jesus reveals to this woman His true being:
The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ; when he comes, he will tell us everything.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one speaking with you.”(Jn 4, 25-26) There is certainly much richness in this Gospel passage, but let's consider this point--Jesus' geographical location and his revelation of Himself to the Samaritan woman.
Certainly Christ did not take the easy road to Galilee. Why would He go to a flashpoint of conflict in Samaria like the well of Jacob? He did so because it was a land of conflict. One might even say that He did so because the Samaritans had a Jewish heritage, but had strayed from that faith. Christ is our Redemeer. By His love, His passion and death, and His resurrection He restores all humanity to the fullness of life in Himself.
In going to Samaria, Christ goes to the place where there is most need for redemption, the place of strife. For each of us, Christ wishes to be with us in that place in our soul that is in strife and most in need of redemption. Christ does not want to see us only in our pious manners and Sunday best. He wants to meet us in the depths of our sin, where His redemptive love can make us whole. So, Christ comes to Samaria, to the well of Jacob, most in need of His redemption and, we hear, while there "they invited him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days.Many more began to believe in him because of his word . . . ." (Jn 4, 40-41)
So, we see that Christ went to Samaria, too, to bring people to salvation by their belief in Him. In our failings, for those who doubt or disagree with the Church, for those who reject the teachings of Christ and the love of God, it is in that geography of sin that Christ desires to meet us.
Each of us has our own Samaria, where Christ wants to do what for us is probably unthinkable--He wants to greet us. He wants to love us. If only we acknowledge Him. Think of how much would have been lost if the Samaritan woman had ignored Christ's question and run away. Each of us has this calling--to acknowledge Christ in our own Samaria and open ourselves to His love.
For what does Christ bring? He is the Messiah. That is the message He gives to the Samaritan woman. Jesus is not just a Jewish man speaking to the Samaritan woman out of curiosity. He is the Messiah--the Son of God sent to bring redemption to the chosen people of Israel--and He is proclaiming Himself to this Samaritan woman. In this, Jesus breaks down the division between Jew and Samaritan, He offers His love to all.
The new Israel are the faithful of God. Christ's resurrection breaks down the barriers of race and creed and geography. And, Christ wants to meet us--to converse with us--in our Sin to save us.
Listen to the exhortation of Venerable Pope John Paul II--Throw open wide the doors to Christ! And, in this Lenten season, let us throw open our hearts to Christ who seeks to greet us in the depths of our souls most in need of His love.
IMAGE: Mid fourth century depiction of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well from the catacomb on the Via Latina.