Ex 17:3-7 Rom 5:1-2, 5-8 Jn 4:5-42 or 4:5-15, 19b-26, 39a, 40-42
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We don’t know why the woman at the well has been married five times. (Was she widowed? Divorced? Both?) Nor do we know why the man she lives with now is not her husband. My mind tends to leap to the most scandalous explanations, but the gospel doesn’t actually tell us much about her past. What we do know about her is that she is thirsty. She’s thirsty for water, so she’s come to the well, and she’s thirsty for the truth, so she questions Jesus about faith. But perhaps her greatest thirst is the one we can understand best: she is thirsty to be known. That is what leads her back to town proclaiming that Jesus might be the Messiah: because he told her everything she’d ever done. He knew her.
Sometimes when people praise me for something I’ve done well, or when I get a compliment about my generosity or thoughtfulness, I think in the back of my mind that if the people saying such nice things about me only knew the whole story, they wouldn’t think so well of me. The accusations flood through my mind: if they only knew how easily I get angry and say harsh words, if they only knew how petty I can be, if they only knew how badly I’ve mangled relationships with friends in the past. And when I think that, when I shy away from love and admiration because of the sins and mistakes in my life that I know so well, I seem to be saying that in order to know me, you have to know all that stuff.
Maybe knowing a person’s weaknesses, sins, and imperfections is part of knowing who a person is, but in the gospel today, Jesus isn’t really focused on the woman’s sins. He knows her past—whatever it has been—and yet he asks her for water. He wants to talk with her; he wants to give her living water so that she may share in the kingdom of God. Knowing everything about the woman at the well, Jesus loves her. I do not think that he loves her because of whatever sins she has committed, but rather because of who she is. To know who we are is to know more than just that we are sinners; we are sinners, but there is more to us than simply that. So maybe today the Lord is inviting us to tell him the whole story of our lives, everything we have ever done. And in the telling, full of our failures and triumphs, our acts of great love and our worst sins, perhaps we can come to know the way God loves us: with full knowledge of who we are, and who we may be in answer to his loving call.
Thomas Flowers, S.J.
Jesuit scholastic studying philosophy and working on an M.A. in history with an emphasis on Early Modern Europe