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In Spirit and in Truth ...

Entrance Antiphon: Ps 25(24):15-16 —“My eyes are always on the Lord, for He rescues my feet from the snare. Turn to me and have mercy on me, for I am alone and poor.”

First Reading: Ex 17:3-7 — “Give us water, so that we may drink.”

Responsorial Psalm: Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9 — “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.”

Second Reading: Rom 5:1-2, 5-8 — “The love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

Verse before the Gospel: Jn 4:42, 15 — “Lord, You are truly the Savior of the world; give me living water, that I may never thirst again.”

Gospel: Jn 4:5-42 — “The water that I shall give will become a spring of eternal life.”

Communion Antiphon: Jn 4:13-14 — “For anyone who drinks it, says the Lord, the water I shall give will become in him a spring welling up to eternal life.”

Some of you may have noticed that the Gospel reading was longer than usual. No apologies: it is Lent, after all, and we have to get in shape for the reading of the Passion stories during Holy Week. Seriously, though, the story of the meeting of Jesus with this self-confident sinner is one of the great moments recorded in Jesus’ preaching and teaching career. And if it was never read at Sunday Mass, I wonder how many Catholics would ever encounter Jesus so directly as a loving Savior … open to our flawed humanity and always on the lookout for someone ready to hear the Good News. And if we had never met this sassy sinner who has no fear of discussing theological questions with a strangely compelling prophet ... someone who is questioning the quality of her religion and lifestyle ... we might never realize how silly we come across to Jesus, yet how much He enjoys our silliness and how ready He is to use it for our salvation.

We know little about Jesus’ sense of humor (or that of the evangelist whom we call Saint John), but today’s Gospel overflows with amusing double-meaning wordplay between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Initially, she just doesn’t “get it.” By the end of their exchange, however, she has a deeper understanding of living water, true worship, the identity of the Messiah, and her own vocation.

The water Jesus can provide fulfills the promise of what the Hebrew Scriptures called “water of life.” Initially, the woman thinks living water is simply running water (as opposed to cistern or well water). Jesus opens up the “double meaning” by connecting it to the “water of life” that in the Scriptures familiar to the woman indicates wisdom, revelation, and divine vitality. Yet we see that the woman is still on the literal level when she mentions a bucket and rope. Soon, however, she recognizes Jesus as the font from which this water springs.

Jesus enlightens the woman regarding “authentic worship.” After recognizing Jesus as a prophet, the woman wants Him to settle the Jewish / Samaritan dispute about the preferred setting for worship: Is it nearby Mount Gerizim or Jerusalem? Jesus urges the woman to think about a form of worship free from geographical location. Her earthbound understanding needs to move to a different level, one that embraces the idea of worship “in spirit and in truth.”

By the end of their conversation, the woman has moved beyond all the double meanings and now begins to understand Jesus’ true identity (and her own). We might chart the woman’s evolving perception of Jesus this way: she sees Him as a Jew, then as a prophet, and then finally perhaps the coming Messiah. Having come to this knowledge, she runs off and begins to spread this “good news” to the townspeople. By recognizing who Jesus is, the woman has clearly found a new identity for herself. She becomes, in fact, a proclaimer of the Messiah: an evangelist.

About 400 years before this Gospel story was written, Aristotle spoke of what he felt was the “most satisfying” element of a story: anagnorisis (recognition). Because the Greek root word gnosis means “knowledge,” it describes the point in any tale where protagonists move from ignorance to knowledge. They realize something that dramatically changes their understanding of themselves and of their situation. In our context, we might say it’s the point where the hero, like the Samaritan woman, finally “gets it.”

Inspired by our sharing of the Word of God, may we now prepare to worship – as our God desires – “in spirit and in truth.”

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