A Lectio Divina Approach to the Sunday Liturgy
BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD (# 14)
3rd Sunday of Lent, Year A – February 27, 2005
“The Water I Shall Give”
Ex 17:3-7 // Rom 5:1-2, 5-8 // Jn 4:5-42
I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS
Susan Terry Timms’ testimony in “What Prayer Can Do” Series (cf. GUIDEPOSTS, May 1997, p. 19), implies that even today God continues to roll away the impervious stones that block the waters of grace which seek to flow into our lives. Her miraculous experience of the arid well that gushed forth a spring of water helps us to trust and focus on Jesus, the font and giver of living water. Here is Susan’s story.
My husband, Bobby, and I didn’t have a clue as to how much it would cost to build our dream home. After finishing the driveway, the septic system and the house, we had almost depleted our savings. But we still had to pay to have a well dug. On the morning the workmen arrived, they drilled and drilled. But 300 feet later they hadn’t hit water, and we didn’t have the money to pay for them to go any deeper. “What are we going to do?” I asked Bobby, barely holding back the tears. He took my hand and answered, “We’re going to pray.” And that is what we did. We joined hands across the empty well and prayed, but not for water. Instead, we asked God to supply for our needs as he would. No sooner had Bobby said amen than there was a soft trickling coming from the bottom of the hole. In amazement we stuck our heads as far into the opening as we dared. Sure enough, we heard the gurgle and sputter of water. Later, one friend suggested a rock had gotten caught in the vein and then loosened, allowing the well to fill with water. It just goes to show God is still in the business of rolling stones away.
The Gospel reading proclaimed this Sunday (Jn 4:5-42) is the first of the three great baptismal passages, traditionally associated with the rites of scrutiny that prepare the elect for baptism. The three Gospel accounts: Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:5-42), the healing of the Man Born Blind (Jn 9:1-41), and the raising of Lazarus to life (Jn 11:1-45) are used in the liturgy of the Word to present to the elect and the baptized community the meaning of baptism as the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit, as enlightenment, and as an intimate participation in Christ’s death and rising to new life.
With regards to the Gospel passage of this Sunday, Martin Connel remarks: “This long reading from chapter 4 of the Gospel of John has been associated with the formation of catechumens for baptism from ancient times. One sees the Samaritan woman turn from unbelief to belief, and then we hear that she herself is testifying to Jesus. This progress in faith is similar to what happens each year when the faith of the newly baptized at the Vigil sparks an awakening of faith for the entire Church. It is similar too to the progress of faith in each Christian life from baptism until death. Whether or not the story is a reflection of baptismal formation in the Evangelist’s own community, it is for the Church today a brilliant story of faith development offered by that Evangelist.”
The Gospel passage of Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well in a Samaritan town called Sychar is focused on Jesus as the font of living water. It also delineates the inclusive nature of God’s benevolent saving plan that the Christ would bring to fulfillment. This Johannine episode makes clear that Jesus’ mission through Samaria is part of his mission of salvation and his ministry of proclaiming the gospel to all nations, first to the Jews, now the Samaritans, and finally the Greeks (cf. Jn 12:20-26). Jesus’ request: “Give me a drink” (Jn 4:7) and his gentle suggestion to the Samaritan woman: “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you ‘Give me a drink’, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water” (Jn 4:10) are to be situated in the context of the paschal plan of salvation in which the Servant-Son is destined to experience the weariness, weakness, aches and longings of a very vulnerable human nature.
St. Augustine comments: “Wearied by his journey, Jesus sat down beside a well. It was about the sixth hour. Already divine mysteries begin. Not for nothing is Jesus wearied; not for nothing does the Power of God suffer fatigue. Not for nothing does he who refreshes the weary endure weariness. Not for nothing is he wearied, whose absence makes us weary, whose presence gives us strength … It was for your sake that Jesus was wearied by his journey. In Jesus we encounter divine power together with weakness … The power of Christ created you; the weakness of Christ recreated you. Christ’s power caused what did not exist to come into being; Christ’s weakness saved existing things from destruction. In his might he fashioned us; in his weakness he came in search of us … The fatigue caused by his journey, therefore, was the weariness Jesus experienced in our human nature. In his human body he was weak, but you must not be weak. You must be strong in his weakness, for there is more power in divine weakness than in human strength.”
The weariness and thirst of Jesus in the midday heat as he sat by Jacob’s well calls to mind his ultimate experience of suffering and acute thirst as he stretched wearily and painfully upon the wood of the Cross, in the merciless heat of the sun at Mount Calvary. Jesus’ thirst at Sychar, which made him request the Samaritan woman a drink, points eloquently to the supreme suffering that he would experience on the tree of affliction. Upon the Cross Jesus would cry out the distressed and pathetic complaint: “I am thirsty” (Jn 19:28). The excruciating thirst and lament of the dying Jesus evokes and brings to completion what the psalmist prophesied concerning the sufferings and hope of the virtuous man, the figure of the Messiah: “I am like water draining away, my bones are all disjointed, my heart is like wax, melting inside me; my palate is drier than a potsherd and my tongue stuck to my jaw” (Ps 22:14-15). Thus, the ultimate thirst of the messianic Jesus involves a pouring out of his life as a sacrificial offering. In his death, he was like water draining away. In his utter abandonment on the Cross he was yearning and thirsting for the salvation of souls.
In a great miracle of love, the ultimate thirst and sacrificial death of Jesus on the Cross realized the divine promise he uttered when he encountered the Samaritan woman: “Whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn 4:14). Indeed, according to the evangelist John: “As scripture says: From his breast shall flow the fountains of living water” (Jn 7:38). This was fulfilled when from the pierced side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death on the Cross flowed out blood and water (cf. Jn 19:34). The blood shows that the lamb has truly been sacrificed for the salvation of the world. The water, symbol of the Spirit, shows that the sacrifice is a rich source of grace. Many of the Fathers, with good reason, interpret the water and blood as symbols of baptism and the Eucharist, and these two sacraments as signifying the Church, which is born like a second Eve from the side of another Adam.
The writer Lawrence Mick thus asserts: “The language about water is clearly symbolic. The living water may refer to baptism and the gift of the Spirit, the source of life; it may also refer to Jesus as the source of life. Such a double reference is not contradictory because the Spirit comes through Jesus. The Torah was described in Jewish tradition as the source of water for life; Jesus is claiming to supplant the Torah in the new age. The Jewish water only satisfied thirst for a time, but the water Jesus offers quenches thirst forever.”
The authors of the Days of the Lord, vol. 2, relate the theme of thirst and living water with the holy season of Lent: “The Lenten journey gives the Church at large and each believer the double experience of a thirst no well on earth can quench and the water that springs up from the heart of eternal life … The liturgy is the privileged place where these living waters well up, abundant and varied, when the word of God is proclaimed. The Spirit awakens adoration, prayer, and thanksgiving in believers’ hearts. The Lord gives himself to his people as food under the signs of bread and wine. But it is everyone’s responsibility to make sure that these life-giving waters can spring up.”
Finally, the Church Father, Origen exhorts: “The wells of our souls need a well digger; they must be cleaned, freed from everything earthly so that the water tables of rational thoughts that God has placed there may produce streams of pure and sincere water. As long as dirt blocks the water tables and obstructs them, the secret current, the pure water cannot flow.” As we thank the Lord, especially in this Lenten season for the gift of living water, God’s gracious offer springing from his benevolence, let us strive to remove all obstacles to the flow of grace in our life. Like the Samaritan woman who was humbly receptive to the living water of messianic revelation, we too will become joyful missionaries of the Good News: the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, through the paschal sacrifice of Jesus, the font of living water.
II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART
A. What meaning does the symbolism of water evoke in me? How does the weariness and thirst of Jesus affect me personally? How do I respond to his request: “Give me a drink”?
B. Am I grateful to Jesus for the gift of living water? Do I live up to the meaning of sacramental baptism as “the washing of regeneration and the renewal by the Holy Spirit”?
C. Like the Samaritan woman, does my encounter with Jesus at the spring of living water transform me into a missionary of Good News and the bearer of the love of God poured into our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit and through the sacrificial offering of Jesus, from whose pierced side flowed fountains of living water?
III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD
(Adapted from the Ambrosian Preface)
Leader: O loving Lord,
in order to offer us the mystery of your humility,
you asked the Samaritan woman for a drink.
You deigned to thirst for her faith
and caused the gift of faith
to be born in her.
By asking her for water,
you lit within her the fire of the love of God.
Look upon us with immense mercy
that we may have the strength
to forsake the deep darkness of sin.
May we spurn the waters of harmful passion
and thirst unceasingly for you,
the fountain of life and the source of all goodness.
We give you thanks,
we adore and praise you,
now and forever.
IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD
The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the week. Please memorize it.
“Whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn 4:14)
V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION
A. ACTION PLAN: Pray that we may be receptive to God’s gift of living water and truly live the meaning of baptism as the sacrament of regeneration and the renewal by the Holy Spirit. Participate in Operation Rice Bowl, the Catholic Relief Services’ Lenten program. Give some of your time to visit the website: www.catholicrelief.org to learn more about the work that the Catholic Relief Services is doing on our behalf around the world. The works of mercy in the third week of Lent are aimed to help the poor in the Philippines. Pray for farmers in the Philippines that they may be good stewards of God’s gift of nature. Offer your contribution for the poor in that country, especially the poor farmers who practice productive farming techniques that protect the natural resources around their farms.
B. ACTION PLAN: That we may truly be united with Christ, the font of living water, and in view of a more meaningful Year of the Eucharist, make an effort to spend an hour in Eucharistic Adoration. Visit the PDDM WEB site (www.pddm.us) for the EUCHARISTIC ADORATION THROUGH THE LITURGICAL YEAR (# 14): A Weekly Pastoral Tool for the Year of the Eucharist.
Prepared by Sr. Mary Margaret Tapang PDDM
PIAE DISCIPULAE DIVINI MAGISTRI
SISTER DISCIPLES OF THE DIVINE MASTER
60 Sunset Ave., Staten Island, NY 10314
Tel. (718) 494-8597 // (718) 761-2323