Exodus 17: 3-7 Romans 5: 1-2, 5-8 John 4: 5-42 THE journey continues. For the Israelites, as described in today's first reading, it was a journey tormented by thirst. And so they lost heart, grumbled and complained, wanted to give it all up and return to Egypt. As so often in the Bible, it is a familiar situation and, as he does again and again, God gives them the water they asked for.
The theme of water as a sign of life, and especially spiritual life, is a recurring one in the scripture. Today, with polluted streams, rivers and seas, it may not be easy to recapture the sense of cleansing, refreshing, healing and life enhancement which is the image of water found in the Old Testament, an image which naturally led the prophets to associate water with the life-giving spirit of God: You will draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation (Is; 12:3). It is against this background that we have today's gospel, the first of three great narratives told by John, chosen for the Sundays of Lent. There are some striking features in this story which, long as it is, make it well worth reading in full. Jesus, tired by the journey, sits down by the well. Then he does a most unexpected thing: he
speaks to one who is both a woman and a samaritan.
The Jews had a long-standing and bitter quarrel with the Samaritans, who had intermarried with the Assyrian invaders and had thus, in the eyes of the Jews, lost all claim to be part of the chosen people. So they were both hated and despised and the Jews refused to associate with them.
The Jews also had strict customs concerning men speaking to women, and an old rabbinic precept laid it down: "Let no man talk with a woman in the street, no, not with his own wife".
But Jesus speaks with her, and in the course of this long dialogue, discerns in her a thirst for a more spiritual water, and leads her to abandon her bucket in her excitement at having discovered one who is the saviour of the world. When Jesus helps her to see herself as she really is (/ see you are a prophet, sir, she says), she asks for help: where can she find God? Jesus refers her back to himself: anyone who drinks the water that I shall give will never be thirsty again, for, God is spirit, and those who worship must worship in spirit and truth.
So, this water is the life of the spirit that has been given to us: the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us, Paul tell us in the second reading. That love, that spirit, that living water, enables us to grow in love, in loyalty, in obedience, in the search for truth. The water found by Moses helped the Israelites through their long desert journey, the water of the spirit that Christ gives can take us through our pilgrimage.
The response to the psalm puts it well: 0 that today you would listen to his voice: 'Harden not your hearts'.