The Woman at the Well & The New Evangelization

03-19-2017This Week in Vidi DominumFr. Will Schmid

What is The "New Evangelization?"
A new evangelization implies that there was an old evangelization. The old evangelization refers to the sharing of the gospel message with people and cultures who didn't know Jesus. This proclamation was undertaken by the apostles and missionaries who initially responded to the Lord's command to "go therefore and make disciples of all nations" (Mt. 28:19). The New Evangelization, on the other hand, refers to the sharing of the gospel message with people and cultures who already know Jesus, but who have lost touch with Him - to whom Jesus has become irrelevant. Perhaps this describes the culture we live in today.

In this Sunday's gospel, we hear the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. We also see how this woman is agent of the New Evangelization - one who re-introduces God to people that have forgotten Him. This gospel calls us all to become "women at the well." To see how she models the New Evangelization for us, let's walk through the passage together…

He had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there. Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well. It was about noon. A woman of Samaria 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, "How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?" (For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered and said to her, "If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him and he would have given you living water." [The woman] said to him, "Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the well is deep; where then can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this well and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?" Jesus answered and said to her, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water."

"He had to pass through Samaria"
In this context, "had to" is not based on any geographical need. There were several routes to Galilee from Judea. Yet, the does not say that He decided to pass through Samaria or that He felt like passing through Samaria. The significance of Jesus having to pass through Samaria is a theological one.

Samaritans were half-Jewish. They married non-Jews and had taken on non-Jewish customs and even some non-Jewish religious practices. Why did Jesus have to go there? He had to go to His lost sheep. Ligare in Latin means "to bind" and Jesus has bound Himself to us. The Cross obliges that Christ comes to us. He has wedded Himself to us. He has made it necessary. He had to.

"Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down"
Sitting is the posture of a teacher, so this action, which readers might gloss over, indicates that Jesus is about to teach. Even though Jesus is tired, He is never too tired to teach us.

"It was about noon"
This is a late hour to be coming to a well. It is likely that she is intentionally avoiding other people. Typically, women would come to draw water early in the morning. By noon, it's hot out and the day is already half over. Shouldn't she be at work? In this passage, we get the impression that her work takes place at night. Perhaps it is not honorable work.

"A woman of Samaria"
This is a double whammy: a Samaritan and a woman. Given the culture at the time, this scenario screams, "Stay away!" But Jesus reaches out to her and says, "give me a drink." Why would Jesus say this? She is a Samaritan, a woman, and she is likely unholy. And Jesus is perfectly capable of getting his own water; He is the fountain of living water.

When Jesus asks her for a drink, it is not really water that he wants. His thirst is for her. Water is the means for Him to reach out to her; to teach her. Where else does water come into play when Jesus is reaching out? The Cross. From the cross, Jesus says, "I thirst" (Jn. 19:28). Jesus thirsts for souls. He thirsts to restore relationships. He seeks to satisfy, not to condemn.

In verses 9-15, Jesus undergoes a dialogue with the woman. This is the teaching of Jesus. He is teaching her what He has to offer her - living water. When she finally understands what He is saying (which takes a while), she then asks for His living water. Reflect on this for a moment…Jesus brings her to an understanding of living water, and then she asks for it. He helps her to see what it is that she is truly seeking, and to yearn for it.

Jesus said to her, "Go call your husband and come back." The woman answered and said to him, "I do not have a husband." Jesus answered her, "You are right in saying, 'I do not have a husband.' For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true." The woman said to him, "Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem." Jesus said to her, "Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth." The woman said to him, "I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Anointed; when he comes, he will tell us everything." Jesus said to her, "I am he, the one who is speaking with you."At that moment his disciples returned, and were amazed that he was talking with a woman, but still no one said, "What are you looking for?" or "Why are you talking with her?"

"Go call your husband"
Why does He give this command? Jesus already knows her sinfulness. He already knows her deep dark secret that forces her to the well at noon. He is helping her to confront her own sinfulness.

"What you have said is true"
She admits her guilt and owns up to her sinfulness. She realizes that she is unworthy of living water. She realizes that there is nothing that she can do to earn this living water. She has already found herself in a state of grave sin and she can't ask for something that she is unworthy of. This is a pivotal moment in the Gospel. It is the moment of humility.

Jesus then teaches her again, except this time she receives His teaching in total humility, and in doing so, she comes to a full understanding of what Jesus is teaching. She realizes that Christ is the source of living water. She realizes that her admission of guilt and the recognition of her inability to earn this living water are the two prerequisites for an encounter with Christ, who is the living water. Now that she has encountered Christ, she is forgiven, healed, and satisfied.

The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, "Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Messiah?" They went out of the town and came to him. Meanwhile, the disciples urged him, "Rabbi, eat." But he said to them, "I have food to eat of which you do not know." So the disciples said to one another, "Could someone have brought him something to eat?"Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work. Do you not say, 'In four months* the harvest will be here'? I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest. The reaper is already receiving his payment and gathering crops for eternal life, so that the sower and reaper can rejoice together. For here the saying is verified that 'One sows and another reaps.' I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the work, and you are sharing the fruits of their work." Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman who testified, "He told me everything I have done." When the Samaritans came to him, they invited him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. Many more began to believe in him because of his word, and they said to the woman, "We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world." (Jn. 4:5-42)

"The woman left her water jar"
She can leave her jar behind because she has been satisfied. She no longer lives on bread (or water) alone. She can now leave her sinfulness behind. She is no longer afraid. Now, she is looking for others, not avoiding them. She has no shame. Her whole world has been turned upside down, and inside out.

This begs two questions for us. First, where is my well? Where do I run to hide from God and others? Second, what is my water jar? What are my sins, attitudes, behaviors, activities, or dispositions that I must leave behind in order to receive what Christ desires to give to me? Evangelization begins with us asking ourselves these two questions. We cannot be agents of the New Evangelization without confronting our sinfulness. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said, "the New Evangelization begins in the confessional."

"Come and see..."
She has encountered Christ and He has taught her. He has helped her confront her sinfulness. He has forgiven her, healed her, and satisfied her. He gives her an experience of being known. She is no longer afraid or ashamed. Now, her desire is to bring others to a similar encounter. How? By invitation. Not by loud shouting. Not by a cool PowerPoint presentation. By simple invitation. Sometimes we get so caught up in making everything engaging and relevant that we forget about the power of a simple invitation.

"I have food to eat of which you do not know"
The disciples come back, after going out to get food, and have no idea what happened with the Samaritan woman. They have no idea what was said or what she is currently doing. Jesus is hungering for the souls that the woman is about to bring to Him; He doesn't care about food. Jesus cares about souls and wants His disciples to understand this.

"My food is to do the will of the one who sent me"
Jesus is giving the disciples an insight into the love relationship he shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit. As many of you know, I am an alumnus of Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix. Brophy's motto is Man for Others. Jesus is THE man for others because everything He does is for the other: His Father. Jesus is THE man for others also because everything He does is for us. Nothing that Christ does is for Himself. His love is totally selfless. It is love in its purest form. Jesus wants His disciples to be lost in His identity as THE man for others.

"Many began to believe in Him because of the word of the woman who testified."
They came to believe in Jesus because of their connection with her. She was an instrument of Christ. Where else do we see this? Andrew brings his brother Peter to Christ, saying "Come and See!" An invitation. It is possible that you may be the only Christ that someone meets. Gandhi once said, "I'll become a Christian when I meet one. I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians."

"They invited Him to stay with them"
There is a desire in them to have Christ remain with them. As Christ thirsts for them, they now thirst for Him. In a way, we can see the foundations of Eucharistic Adoration here - a holy remaining with Christ in awe and in adoration of His presence.

"We no longer believe because of your word"
The woman has now faded into the background and only Christ remains. This is the end of the story because it ends with, and in, Christ. Their faith no longer relies on the Samaritan woman - it now transcends her. Who are the people in your life that have brought you to an encounter with Christ? Consider also, who, in your life, are the lost sheep (perhaps fallen-way Catholics) that Jesus is thirsting for? How could you bring them to Christ?

All efforts to evangelize must lead to Christ. The story of the woman at the well encourages us to leave our water jars, let Christ heal and satisfy us, then go back into our towns, share about what the Lord has done for us, offer simple invitations, and bring others to the source of living water.