Taking chances is always a risky business. Whether walking alone at night or trying to negotiate the freeway with “crazy” drivers is practically always a serious risk. But it could be very risky when we are in conversation with someone whom our culture would not condone. What would people say?
In the Gospel for the Third Sunday of Lent (John 4:5-42) the Jewish Jesus is speaking to a Samaritan woman. That was taking a real chance. The Jewish culture at the time did not allow Jews to converse with Samaritans. And something else. This was a single man speaking to a woman–without being properly introduced.
There appeared to be a fracture of the Jewish culture by the Jewish Jesus. Why did he do this? In fact, when he was in conversation with anyone it was generally to make the conversation a “teachable moment.” For the most part in his conversation with the Samaritan woman we can say that the teachable moments had to do with “living water” and “being an evangelist.”
The concept of “living water” referred to water that was constantly flowing (such as a river) as opposed to water that was not (such as well water.) Jesus referred to himself as living water and one had to “drink” him (=believe in him and do his work) in order to “live” (=have everlasting life.)
In addition, the Samaritan woman became a promoter of the Jewish Jesus soon after their encounter. She went to her village and spoke excitedly about him to other townsfolk, much like an “evangelist.” The text tells us that the people were impressed and so began to believe in him.
What can we learn from this Gospel reading? Many things I suppose, but I would like to suggest two. The first is about “living water.” For us, “living water” would be the sacrament of our Baptism. When the priest poured running water on our forehead baptizing us in the name of the Trinity, we were given the responsibility of carrying on Jesus’ work to the best of our ability. It would be beneficial to remember constantly these responsibilies.
The second suggestion deals with the Samaritan woman being a “proclaimer” of Jesus to others. For us, this would mean that we can’t give what we don’t have. If we don’t know much about Jesus what can we say to others about him? Obviously, we will have to study Scripture. Then whatever we say about Jesus will have credibility.
However, one important item to keep in mind is the issue of culture. For example, what are the limitations our culture places on us in terms of dealing with other people? Feelings of racism? Immigration? Speaking another language instead of English? The Bible tells us that we are all created EQUAL in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27).
On his own, the Jewish Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman thus breaking the cultural barrier. Why? Because Jesus placed greater reliability on his faith rather than on his culture. We should do the same.
If we were to focus on the responsibilties placed on us by our Baptism, and took seriously our obligation to learn more about Jesus, then this would be a chance worth taking.