"‘Is the Lord in our midst or not?’”
This year on the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Sundays of Lent, our Gospel passage comes from the Gospel according to Saint John. Saint John’s Gospel account differs from Matthew, Mark, and Luke in many ways. One of the unique things about John that we will hear during these three Sundays is that John often expresses double meanings through the words and works of Jesus. For example, when Jesus cures a blind man, the evangelist goes out of his way to show how that cure—besides being a physical miracle—is also a sign that Jesus can cure a person’s spiritual blindness. Similarly, in John Jesus speaks with Nicodemus late at night about being “born again”, which Nicodemus misunderstands because he thinks Jesus means this literally.
In today’s Gospel passage from John is another conversation. Jesus meets a Samaritan woman, an outcast who represents every human sinner. At the very beginning of the conversation, Jesus asks her for a drink of water. Think about this: Jesus Christ, who is God, asks the outcast for what He does not have. Immediately, this sounds strange, that an all-powerful God would ask a sinful woman for a drink. Why would He do this?
Surely if Jesus had wanted He could have worked a miracle greater than the one God had worked through Moses in the desert, bringing water from the rock at Massah and Meribah. So given His divine omnipotence, what does Jesus need with this sinful Samaritan woman? What does Jesus need with us? He needs nothing. But He asks the outcast for something that He does not have, in order to give her something greater. Although Jesus needs nothing, He wants a great deal: that is to say, He wants every human soul to be His.
Here John’s double meaning begins to emerge. Jesus asks the outcast for what he does not have. He does not have the outcast’s soul. The Samaritan woman has chosen, over the years, to keep her soul to herself, to use herself and others for her own desires. But God wants her soul. Of course God could always have anything He wants, just as He could have produced a river in the desert to quench His thirst. But God chooses, at the moment a human life begins, to give that person freedom: the freedom to love Him completely, which in turn means the freedom to leave Him completely.
Each of us sinners chooses to use his freedom for his own sake, to serve his own needs and desires. But the more a person serves himself, the darker, the deader, and the harder his heart becomes. God, of course, is always free to take away our sins without our confessing them, but if He were to do that, He would also take away our freedom. God uses His divine freedom to withhold forgiveness, so that we may use our human freedom to ask His forgiveness.
Jesus, throughout His dialogue with the outcast, works at drawing forth a confession from the depths of her sinful heart, just as He asks her to draw water from the depths of the well. When the outcast finally recognizes her need for something greater than this world’s pleasures, she turns to God. From Him she seeks the joy which only He can pour down from heaven, the grace that floods the soul for the first time in the waters of Baptism.
Those of us who have already been washed in Baptism also admit our sins during Lent, availing ourselves of the Sacrament of Confession. But we might ask ourselves, “Why do we confess our sins?” After all, God already has knowledge of our sins. Then again, why would Jesus in today’s Gospel passage need to ask for something He already has access to?
We see that Jesus, in asking something of the Samaritan woman, is in fact offering her something. In her conversation with Jesus, she comes to recognize her own sinfulness, and from her heart flow tears of sorrow for her sins. From the hardened heart of an outcast flows her human love for God, and God in return offers a share in divine, eternal love. Tears of sorrow prepare souls to receive the flood-waters of God’s Divine Mercy.
God is working to call each of us into a conversation with Him. Jesus wants to speak to each of us, heart to heart. Each of us has the opportunity to approach Him and offer Him our sinful selves, knowing that there is no heart so hardened by sin that God does not want to draw human love from it, and fill it with His own divine love.