Today's gospel passage presents one of the most well-known episodes of the bible, an encounter between Jesus and the woman at the well. This is a story that reveals the fragility that is at the heart of all life, and the delicacy with which Jesus invites us to find the source of our strength in Him.
It looks simple
I brought a small wood carving home from Panama this week. At first glance it appears to be simple, but it represents many hours of dedicated work and many years spent developing and honing the talent of the artist who carved it. The secret to its beauty is hidden in the fact that there is much more to this little piece of art than we might see at first glance. The delicacy of the carving leads me to believe that the artist had to be very gentle while he worked yet it is in the very fact of its delicate nature that the true beauty of this piece comes to light.
The gospel passage we have just heard tells the story of another artist at work: in this case, a divine artist who encounters a woman who was at first oblivious to the master craftsman who was sitting before her. His words appeared so simple, and yet so striking: Give me a drink (Jn 4:7), but this question is not no simple. We might see this as a matter of Jesus making himself vulnerable – depending on the woman’s charity so that he wouldn’t perish in the heat of the mid-day sun, yet there is much more to Jesus’ invitation. Jews did not share things in common with Samaritans. In normal circumstances, they would not even have spoken to one another, so Jesus words would have startled the woman. She could have chosen to ignore him and to go about her tasks, yet she too made herself chose to make herself vulnerable, daring to ask him a question: How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria (Jn 4:9), and this vulnerability was in fact what made it possible for the rest of their conversation to take place.
Jesus invites each of us to encounter him, to allow ourselves to expose our own vulnerabilities in his presence. This is not easy for us to do. We would much rather remain like the people who complained to Moses in the wilderness: Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us ... with thirst? (Ex 17:3). We would much rather blame others for our troubles, but those who know us best, those who truly love us and want to best for us will not stop challenging us until we are able to remove the outer shell that hides our vulnerabilities, because only when we are able to face our own demons will we be able to appreciate the beauty that they hide.
Jesus’ original question was actually rhetorical, but in order for the woman to begin to understand this truth, she needed first to begin to see as Jesus sees, and that’s the same for us as well. We thirst in many ways, often without even being aware of it, but if only we would repeat the same question that he first asked, addressing it to him instead, he will always give us living water (Jn 4:10) which will become in us a spring of water gushing up to eternal life (Jn 4:14). Jesus offers us this living water every time we gather around his table, every time we come to him and ask him for a drink. The water that he provides is capable of purifying all the hidden corners of our lives, the shadows in which we choose to hide the dust of our daily existence, and in return he reveals himself to us. He is the Messiah who is coming ... the one who will proclaim all things to us (Jn 4:25).
Saint Paul reminds us that God proved his love for us in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). God became fragile in our presence so that we could uncover the true depth of his love. Over and over again, he invites us to allow ourselves to be vulnerable in his presence so that we too can come to believe in his word (Jn 4:41), and once we do, we will come to believe for ourselves that he is truly the Saviour of the world (Jn 4:42).