There is a stanza in the ancient hymn Dies Irae (Day of wrath) of all hymns that reminds us of the core message of the gospel narrative (Jn 4:5-42) for the Third Sunday of Lent.
Quaerens me sedisti lassus, Redimisti Crucem passus, tantus labor non sit cassus
You sat exhausted looking for me. You redeemed me through the Cross, may so much toil not be in vain.
This gospel reading, as well as those of the next two Sundays, will be intentionally long because they deal with the core of God’s work of grace in us. It is safe to assume that the story of the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well resonates with all of us. And this is the core of the message: our Lord cannot stand idle watching us settle for much, much less than for what our dignity commands.
But you are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises” of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Pt 2:9)
Reliving this story, we must picture Jesus scurrying around from one of us to the next urging us to toss aside the stale routine and flat lifestyle in which we have settled in order to live life to the fullest.[…] I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly. (Jn 10:10)
There are nights in which I toss and turn until I settle for a less-than-perfect posture and fall asleep. We agree that the bed in which we try to sleep might contribute to our restlessness, but we all know that, oftentimes, it is a combination of many factors, including the spiritual state of our mind, heart and soul.
The Samaritan woman had settled for a routine and lifestyle that troubled immensely the heart of our Lord. Five husbands—one after the other: that’s a lot of tossing and turning! Finally, she settled for shacking up, uncommitted, with partner number six. Of course that was not the way she had dreamed of living her life; but she managed. None of her five husbands proved to be the man with whom she wanted to spend the rest of her life. She could not stop the spiteful gossiping, the burning stares, the unconcealed loathing of the town folks or, more precisely, of the town women!
Draw water from the well with the men? Too daring. Draw water with the other women later on or in the evening? Not a chance! The humiliation would have been unbearable. She settled for going to the well alone at the most ungodly hour of the day, at noon, when not even stray dogs were roaming the dusty streets of Sychar. Her world had shrunk considerably; yet she could still manage; she could still go on with her life from day to day, uneventfully, following a routine that protected her from spikes of pain. But that pain had recently morphed into dull ache nibbling slowly, mercilessly at her heart. It was the dull ache of broken dreams mixed with lame validations of her mediocrity and isolation and fading passion. Obdurate loathing of the other women of Sychar kept her heartache smarting and festering.
As she approached the familiar well, she felt totally unprepared to react to the presence of that handsome Jew sitting nearby. His daring, intrusive, probes fed her uneasiness that turned quickly into palpable discomfort and, finally, to panic. Could this man be the Prophet? Could he be the Christ?
How many people over the centuries must have identified with that troubled woman! How many, all of us included, should say with a huge sigh of relief to Jesus: You sat exhausted looking for me. You redeemed me through the Cross, may so much toil not be in vain.
Looking at our life on this very day, perhaps we notice that we might have settled to live from day to day, uneventfully, just a notch or two above bare survival. Are peaks of enthusiasm, spurts of fervor a distant memory for us? Do we merely manage? Do we settle for coping, for reacting to events rather than enjoying life?
The Lord doesn’t allow us to just scrape a living because we forgot who we truly are: “…a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own…” (1 Pt 2:9)
After Jesus had penetrated the Samaritan woman’s line of defense, she was still reluctant to be set free of mediocrity and uneventfulness. She was not yet ready for the impetuous gushing of living water from the Messiah to reach her inner desert and turn it into a spring of water welling up to eternal life.
She had played already the race card: Jew vs. Samaritan. She had tried the practical card, too: you have no bucket and this cistern is deep. She was left with what she thought would be her trump card, the religion card: where to worship on Mt. Gerizim or on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem?
It was only when Jesus said to her: “I am he, the one speaking with you” that she welcomed the Messiah in her heart and she was set free to worship in Spirit and truth. I think that she must have felt as free as a leg amputee soaring, diving and drifting with a hang glider for the first time!
If we detect some envy surfacing inside as we contemplate this classic page of the Gospel of John, we want to probe our heart for any trace of the dull ache that might have embedded itself in there because we must have settled for less, much less than our being a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.
In the course of our probing, we could come across the dull ache of resentment, procrastinations, lame rationalizations, lukewarmness, addictions, presumptions, and even the ache of not reciprocating as we should the love of Jesus for us. Today, we should urge ourselves to let the Spirit remove all limits to our loving and we should be brave enough to let the truth expose the real condition of our heart.
O Jesus, you sat exhausted looking for me. You redeemed me through the Cross, may so much toil not be in vain.