19 March 2017: Third Sunday of Lent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Ex 17:3-7 Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9 Rom 5:1-2, 5-8 Jn 4:5-42

Water and food: lessons in discipleship

Purple_banner_sm This week, John’s gospel reading asks RCIA candidates and the believing community to think about the personal encounters that create disciples.

John’s gospel tells the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well. This story is rich with meanings, but this reflection focuses on the story’s confusion and irony about two of life’s basic needs: water and food:

  • Water. Jesus opens his dialogue with the Samaritan woman with a simple request: give me a drink of water. For RCIA participants, especially catechumens and the Elect, this story presents water as an image of baptism–the sacrament of initiation and entry into the believing community. Jesus teaches the Samaritan woman to look beyond water’s functional use. Jesus helps her to see and to know what she really thirsts for.In the sacrament of Baptism, ordinary water becomes living water, imbued with ritual and liturgical significance. The baptismal waters drown our former sinful selves, and resurrect us as new creations flooded with God’s own life. Just as Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman re-integrate her into her social community, Baptism incorporates us into the ekklesia, the believing community. Jesus’ living water restored the Samaritan woman to her social community; Jesus’ baptismal water restores us to God’s family.
  • Food. For the believing community, this story provides lessons in evangelization. To fulfill his mission of bringing everyone to the Father, Jesus “had to” evangelize Samaria. He engages the Samaritan woman in conversation, revealing to her who he is and the water he can provide. After she encounters Jesus’ living water, she goes to tell others about him–“could he be the messiah?” The Samaritan woman becomes an evangelist for Jesus.Returning with food, the Twelve tell Jesus: you need to eat. Jesus responds that he is fed by doing and finishing the Father’s will. He teaches the Twelve something else about evangelization. Jesus tells them that the harvest–those ready to accept Jesus’ teaching and to become his disciples–is ready now. The Twelve must act immediately to bring in the next crop of disciples. Jesus invites the Samaritan woman, the disciples, and us to offer living water to others. Jesus’ spiritual food–“to do the will of the One who sent me”–fuels his mission; our spiritual food–the Eucharist–fuels our mission to live as Jesus taught and to make disciples of all nations.

Today’s reading asks us to think about our own discipleship as well as the evangelization of others: How does someone come to faith? What are the obstacles that a disciple must overcome? We come to faith only through encountering Jesus, like the woman at the well. Our baptismal mission is to make disciples. Do others encounter Jesus then they encounter us? Do we remove obstacles to faith or create them? What fuels our evangelization?

—Terence Sherlock

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