Jesus and the First Missionary of the New Testament

[Homily.  Third Sunday of Lent. 12 March 2023]

We have just heard the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman.  It is an occasion to draw your attention to the two huge murals of Mark Tolentino in the back of this chapel. They are gospel images presented in indigenized art, in the symbols of local cultures. 

One is of Jesus in the synagogue of Nazareth portrayed in Lk. 4:14-30.  At the start of his public ministry, Jesus presents his program to his own people, and he is rejected. They take scandal in his message that the Good News might be shared with non-Jews.  Enraged, they want to kill him by pushing him off a cliff. 

The other is an image of what we heard this morning in our Gospel reading.  Jesus is not speaking to his own people.  Instead, he is speaking to a woman whom he should not be speaking with: a Samaritan woman. But beginning with Jesus’ icebreaker, a simple request for water, they enter into an intimate dialogue – the sort of dialogue between strangers or estranged people this chapel was consecrated to promote.  The result is what is heralded at the end of our gospel reading:  exposed to interaction with Jesus for two days, the Samaritan townsfolk are now telling the woman, “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard [him] for ourselves, and we know that this [Jesus} is truly the savior of the world” (Jn 4:42).

In this beautiful account from the Gospel of John – Jesus and the Samaritan woman meet at a well in Sychar.  It was believed that the well was provided by the patriarch, Jacob (-Israel), whose sons eventually headed the twelve tribes of Israel.  Jesus asks the Samaritan woman to give him a drink of water.  She is shocked that he does, since Jews don’t talk to Samaritans.  This was because of a religious dispute. The Jews insisted that true worship of God can only take place in the Temple of Jerusalem.  The Samaritans, however, had their own high places of worship.

How can you be asking me to give you water?  I am a Samaritan woman.

Jesus uses her question to introduce what he really wants to say:  I want to give you living water, so you will never thirst again.  While the woman may be thinking of natural water, Jesus is using natural water as a symbol of another kind of water:  “…the water I will give will become in the person receiving it a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn 4:14).   For Jesus, this water is the Spirit – a spirit that lives from within, a spirit of forgiveness, a spirit of forgiving because of having experienced forgiveness oneself, a spirit of love – shared by the crucified and risen Lord with those who believe in him leading to the joys of eternal life.  Drinking this water unto eternal life, one never thirsts again.  Because this water is superior to the water in Jacob’s well, Jesus shows himself to be greater than Jacob. (cf Jn. 4:12)

The woman says, “Sir, give me this water so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water” (Jn 4:15).

Let us now return to the dispute between Samaritans and Jews that happily failed to keep Jesus and the Samaritan woman apart.  “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.  … But the hour is coming and is now here, when true worshippers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth.  … God is Spirit and those who worship him must worship him in Spirit and truth” (Jn 4:21-22).

Perhaps without fully understanding what Jesus meant, the woman says. “I know the Messiah is coming, the one called the Anointed.  When he comes, he will tell us everything” (Jn 4:25).

Then Jesus discloses, “I am he, the one who is speaking with you.”  In the intimacy of their conversation, there is no messianic secret.  Jesus does not hold back.  You are waiting for the Messiah, the Anointed One.  “I am he” (Jn 4:26).

He would, however, not be like the anointed priest, who offered the blood of animals in order to atone for sin; he would offer his own blood.  He would not be the anointed King to win back worldly political power for Israel; he would promote the Kingdom of God.  He would not be the anointed prophet to speak God’s truth “in partial and various way” but wholly and definitively (cf. Heb. !:1-4).  He would be the priest, king and prophet anointed to do the Father’s will and to reconcile humanity with him by washing away our sins with the blood and water that flowed from his pierced Heart on the Cross.

While Jesus’ townsfolk in Nazareth wanted to kill him after he presented his program of ministry to them, the townsfolk of Sychar in Samaria welcomed Jesus, asked him to stay, listened to him, and were led to genuine faith.  “Truly this is the savior of the world!” (Jn 4:12), they rejoiced.

In this season of Lent, where are we:  are we among the townsfolk and relatives of Jesus who want to murder him because he does not fit our conception of the Messiah?  Or are we with the Samaritan townsfolk called to authentic faith by the woman of many husbands who, in her fascination for Jesus, became the first missionary in the new testament?


About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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