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Third Sunday of Lent Reflection

Reflections on The Woman at the Well BY ADRIAN VAN KAAM

March 28,  2011

“. . . He came to the Samaritan town called Sychar . . .”

St. John’s gospel reminds us that God is spirit and that we are called to worship in spirit and in truth.  (Jn.4:24)  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)

     A 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 replied:

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.

Fittingly, 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 offers.

     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 do?  Very 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 receptive attitude.  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 week’s reflection)

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