Third Sunday of Lent Reflection
Reflections on The Woman at the Well BY ADRIAN VAN KAAM
March 28, 2011
John’s gospel reminds us that God is spirit and that we are
called to worship in spirit and in truth.
Worshiping in spirit and truth is an expression of our belief in
a spiritual basis of life.
It reflects our willingness to be guided by life
directives that are spiritual in nature.
We cannot live the life of the spirit unless we allow
ourselves to be addressed by the Spirit.
The spiritual directives awakening our minds and hearts
remind us first of all that we are spirit.
They call us to release the dynamic longing deep within
us to live a life according to the spirit and its inspirations.
These directives make it possible for us to give
spiritual form to our lives.
They touch and transform our hearts, enabling us to seek
and give expression to our hidden but authentic transcendent
identity in Christ.
A preeminent source of such directives is spiritual texts, and
our engagement with them in spiritual reading and reflection.
When we read formatively we serve the disclosure of the
potentially transformative directives in a text.
The full process goes way beyond the act of reading
itself to include formative reflection, meditation and prayer.
Dialoguing with spiritual directives may also involve
journal writing and personal spiritual or group direction.
If the process of formative reading is allowed fully to
mature, infused contemplation may begin imperceptibly to
transform our presence and experience in the world.
Ultimately our dialogue with the spirit entails
co-formative interaction with transformative directives.
We are transformed by receptivity to the Spirit and
service of the Word.
“We shall,” according to John “be like Him.”
(1 Jn 3:2)
formative reading of The
Woman at the Well leads to the disclosure of several
transformative directives for Christian formation.
We would like in this presentation to surface some of
these directives and to highlight their relevance for our
ongoing formation in Christ.
Reflection on the spiritual formation of our lives is the
particular focus of the discussion. We recall briefly the
setting of story:
On the way he
came to the Samaritan town called Sychar, near the land that
Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well is there and Jesus,
tired by the journey, sat straight down by the well. It was
about the sixth hour. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water,
Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” His disciples had gone
into the town to buy food. The Samaritan Woman said to him,
“What? You are a Jew and you ask me, a Samaritan, for a drink?”
— Jews, in fact, do not associate with Samaritans. Jesus
If you only knew
what God is offering
and who it is that is saying to you:
Give me a drink,
you would have been the one to ask,
and would have given you living water.
the first directive we receive in this text is an offering of
grace. Jesus asks the woman for a drink, and then goes on to say
he could give living water which would be a lasting source of
1ife. The woman, of course, does not understand that he is
speaking of grace. She hopes that what he promises her might
mean that she will no longer have to go to the well to draw
water. In the opening scene of her encounter with Jesus the
woman's faith is on the magical level; she is still hoping for
external “miracles” to change the circumstances of her life.
Through the woman at the well Jesus turns his gaze to each one
of us and offers his grace: “If you drink the water that I shall
give, you will never be thirsty again.”
The clear directive here is to receive the grace which he
“Grace” is a significant word here; and so is the
word “receive.” We
cannot receive the living water unless we open
ourselves to grace.
Our disposition to receive Jesus graciously is of the utmost
importance, and it is underscored in the text to reflect the
fact that our receptivity may be blocked.
Jesus turns toward us, reaches out to us and offers the
gift of himself.
What do we
1ikely, a thought intervenes reminding us of something we must
do. The thought
which emerges at this time is a kind of counterdirective which
interrupts our encounter with the Lord.
Unconsciously we may decide that this is not the time to
receive what is offered to us spiritually.
“We’ll continue this some other time.”
On page 39 of the text, the author reminds us that we give only
from what we have received.
Yet, we may persist in an attitude that exalts our
ability to give or to do. Any summons to be the active agent in
a situation may be exalted above the divine call to dwell with
Jesus and to receive from his spirit. This deep-seated tendency
in our culture can lead us to deligimate the primacy of the
God alone gives us what we are meant uniquely to offer to
others. Our giving
is dependent on our receptivity.
In a truly radical sense, God — and not we — decides what
is to be given.
We might add that receiving is not a passive attitude. Rather,
it is a profound response of trust in the Lord.
We believe that the Lord can give us what we need to be
effective and appropriate ministers in each situation.
We open our hearts and our lives to Him, trusting that He
will lead us to make the correct response. An attitude of
openness to God is one with our concern for the world, which
leads, not to passivity, but to greater involvement and love.
Jesus’ offer of grace is also a call to be generous and gentle.
Like Jesus, we are to be relaxed cooperators with grace.
This directive is an important one also, for we meet with
resistance at every turn. We may become irritated and angry when
our gifts are not recognized or appreciated. At such times we
are to be like Jesus who, rebuffed and humbled by one of his
creatures, remains peaceful, poised and gentle. (p. 30)
Jesus simply keeps speaking to the woman.
(to be continued in next