Readings: Exodus 17:3-7; Romans 5:1-2,5-8; John 4:5-42 (from Year A)
Self-scrutiny, thirsting for the water of life and conversion are some of the words that help us to focus of the message of this Sunday. The readings focus on the symbolism of water, leading us from self-scrutiny to the realization of our own thirst for God. The readings help to connect with the first of three Scrutinies celebrated this Sunday with those elected for Baptism on the First Sunday of Lent. The Scrutinies are a time of soul-searching and repentance during which the candidates for Baptism and us too seek to uncover all that is weak, defective or sinful in our lives. They also provide an occasion to strengthen our positive qualities. In the ancient Church, the Scrutinies were moments for assessing the catechumens before they were judged worthy for Baptism on Easter Vigil. In this context, we look closely at the readings of this Sunday. The symbolism of water is very central in all three readings. In the Exodus story, the Israelites complain of being too thirsty, and Moses is instructed by God to strike a rock in order to get water for them to drink. Even after abundant water gushes forth from the rock, they continue to grumble. Though they doubt the Lord, God in his compassion continues to lead them towards conversion. Paul in the second reading also speaks about God’s love that has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit in Baptism. This outpouring of the Holy Spirit is compared to a real drinking of the Spirit that quenches our spiritual thirst.
In the Gospel, Jesus is at Jacob's well seated there in the mid-day sun and he is thirsty. A Samaritan woman arrives to draw water. Jesus asks the woman for some water to drink, but his intention is to use water as talking point in order to lead her to discover her own spiritual thirst; her need for conversion; her need to turn around towards God. Jesus knows that she has quite a reputation in her village, having been married five times and living with a sixth man! In the course of an interesting dialogue, Jesus who is thirsty for her conversion gradually leads her to scrutinize herself, but goes further to tell her about her secret life. Though embarrassed at Jesus’ scrutiny and insight into her life, she is led gradually first to confess that she knows that the Messiah – the Christ is coming, and when he comes he will tell us everything. At that point, Jesus reveals his true identity to her. “I who am speaking to you... I am he”. She is first surprised and then becomes completely converted and accepts the water of life that Jesus offers to quench her spiritual thirst. This woman who first came for a jug of water, now puts the jug down and becomes a disciple sent to her village where she tells her people: “Come and see”, come and see the person who has changed my life! So she goes home not only cleansed but also refreshed after drinking the life-giving water that only Jesus can give. As we celebrate the first of three Scrutinies with the candidates for Baptism, the readings invite us too to scrutinize ourselves and so discover our spiritual thirst for the water of life before we become spiritually dehydrated. The message we take home this Sunday may be summed up in three points: 1) Like the Samaritan woman, this too is our day of Scrutiny and conversion. 2) We are led from discovering our spiritual thirst, to recognizing our thirst for God's mercy. 3) Just as the Samaritan woman is converted and discovers her vocation as a disciple of Jesus to her village, we too are called to experience new life in Christ, and sent to be witnesses of Jesus Christ, so that many others may come to believe in Jesus Christ who has changed our lives.
©2018 John S. Mbinda