Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, 1606-1669. Christ and the Woman of Samaria, Among Ruins, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved March 8, 2023]. Original source:

RCL Year A, Lent 3
Exodus 17:1-7, Psalm 95, Romans 5:1-11, Saint John 4:5-42

Jeremiah, speaking for the Lord, declares: “for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.”[1]

And six centuries later, Jesus walks into a dusty Samaritan town at noonday and sits down by the well. A woman comes out to draw water, and, after preliminaries, Jesus declares to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”[2]

I began with Jeremiah, because I could not resist the opportunity to use the passage mentioning “living water.” I could have used the first lesson from Exodus to make Point Number One that I now say directly: Jesus at the well with the Samaritan woman summarizes all of Israel’s rebellious history, all of God’s attempts to draw Israel into faithful obedience, and all of God’s steadfast love and grace that flow to people who love and obey the Lord. All these things are to be found in today’s lengthy, dense, and symbolic Gospel. Exegetical notes on this Gospel extend nine single-spaced pages. How can a short homily disclose every feature of this wonderful Gospel?

You remember how skeptical Nicodemus was in the Gospel last Sunday when Jesus tells him that “What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.”[3] Today’s Gospel shows us how a person born in flesh can be born in the Spirit. This is Point Number Two. The Samaritan woman answers Nicodemus’ doubts. How it happens to her is how it could happen to him, or to you, or to me, or to an unchurched person living next door.

Two mileposts mark her birth in the Spirit. The first is that Jesus invites her to be a seeker. He does it in the verse I quoted earlier, “If you knew…you would have asked him [for] living water.”[4] The second is when Jesus shows her that he knows her, “for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your h?usband.”[5]

In the end, the Samaritan woman becomes an evangelist. Many come to believe in Jesus because of her testimony and his word. He stays with them two days. I wonder what he said to them?

And I wonder what he would have to say to us for us to exclaim “My Lord and my God,”[6] as I said at the end of the homily last week. What would he have to say to us so we would keep a holy and costly Lent? What would he have to say to us so that we would experience firsthand the power of the Savior and Redeemer of the world? What would he have to say to us so that we would tell a neighbor about the experience of that power?

[1] Jeremiah 2:13.

[2] Saint John 4:10.

[3] Saint John 3:6.

[4] Saint John 4:10.

[5] Saint John 4: 18.

[6] Saint John 20:28.