Have you ever been in love with someone you weren’t supposed to love? Someone your parents or your friends disapproved of?
In the first two paragraphs of today’s Gospel, Jesus does some astounding things.
- He goes to Samaria.
- He walks up to a well where a woman is drawing water.
- He sends off his disciples so he is alone with the woman.
- He speaks to her.
- He does this at noon, when anyone walking by can see.
All of these are very large barriers for a Jewish man to cross in Jesus’ day. His friends clearly disapproved. What does Jesus want so badly that he is willing to engage in such risky behavior?
This story really begins with the wedding at Cana when Jesus reveals himself as the Bridegroom. The Bridegroom is in search of a Bride and he has discovered that the House of Israel only seemed interested in a marriage of convenience. So Jesus stepped out. He went to the part of town he shouldn’t have. He asked out the girl with the reputation. He went to Samaria, across the border, to a place self-respecting Jews did not go.
The very nature of the God is an incessant craving for intimacy. The reason for creation is so God could have an “other” to love. The reason the Son became flesh is so God could feel how we feel, love how we love, want what we want. That God could love us like that seems almost reckless. If God had parents, surely they would not approve.
That reckless love, that intimacy with Jesus, is what Pope John Paul II said catechists are to help people find. If you’ve ever loved someone, you know intimacy is a two way street. You cannot have intimacy all by yourself. Someone has to desire you, to want to be intimate back, to share their life with you. No matter how much we desire Jesus, he desires us more. No matter how much the woman at the well needed Jesus, he needed her more.
In this story, Jesus was reckless in his love. He was willing to cross over physical and social boundaries to get what he needed. He was willing to put up with the questioning and suspicion of his closest disciples to teach them not have such a small love, not to limit their love only to places and people where they feel safe.
The disciples didn’t love the Samaritans. The Samaritans were foreigners who had strange customs and strange foods. They had odd rituals, and weird devotional practices. The disciples were willing to follow Jesus into Samaria, but they didn’t really cross over the boundary. They are like some Americans who go to foreign countries for vacation and get upset when they can’t get eggs and bacon for breakfast. When the disciples went to town to buy food, they probably went to the first century version of McDonalds. It didn’t occur to them to tell people about Jesus while they were there. Who throws pearls before swine after all?
The Woman at the Well, on the other hand, couldn’t wait. She rushed off so fast, she left her water jar, left everything. She ran, totally committed to the love she had discovered. She ran to town to announce the good news. This was the same town the disciples had just returned from. The woman went into the town and returned to the well with hearts to woo. The disciples returned with lunch.
We have Samaritan Women among us today. The Elect are here, asking the same kinds of questions the woman at the well asked. In a moment, we will pray for them that their love remains true, that their commitment is total. We will pray God strengthens all that God loves in them and that they will be healed from all that hinders their love for God.
We can be sure they do love God with a passionate, reckless love that perhaps some people in their lives may not approve of. Their catechists and this community have succeeded in matchmaking them with Jesus, bringing them to that love and intimacy Pope John Paul talked about.
Likewise, we can be sure that Jesus loves them. He loves them, needs them, desires them, wants them as much as he needed the Samaritan woman. He is crossing over their Samarias, sitting at their wells, courting them in broad daylight, not caring who knows that he is crazy in love with them. This Easter Vigil, when the Elect step up to the well of living water, they will become the Bride. Their desire, their need, their thirst for intimacy will be so fully quenched, they will never thirst again.
And we who will be witnesses at this new Cana, at the Easter Vigil’s wedding banquet, we will remember when our own love of Christ was newly in bloom and our own desire was met with overwhelming desire. On that night of overflowing water, we will remember how our baptism quenched all our thirsts. On that night, we will renew our vows, our promise, our total commitment to the love of Christ.
It is a reckless, head over heals kind of love affair we have. It is a love that crosses boundaries and seeks intimacy in places we might not have expected, in places we might not have gone, in people who are not like us, who at first might have seemed foreign and unsafe.
When we read this love story of the Woman at the Well, we hear it differently at different times in our lives. When we are new to love or when we are feeling unlovable, we might imagine ourselves to be the woman, a person thirsting for intimacy, a person parched by the day to day struggles of trying to make sense of life. When we are bored or burnt out or not vibrantly in touch with our faith, we might think we are the disciples, good hearted folks who are a bit clueless and need a little reminding of what it means to be a Catholic and a Christian.
But today, in this place, as we are about to pray for the Elect in our midst, we, the baptized, are like Christ at Cana, at the Wedding Banquet, to whom the Mother of God says, “They have no wine.” In Christ, we can turn water into wine, loneliness and isolation into intimacy and communion. With Christ, we can cross the boundaries of places we might otherwise be afraid to go. Through Christ, we can sit at the well of those who are not like us in so many ways, but are like us in the one way that matters. We all thirst for that deep intimacy that only the Bridegroom can give.
The boundary breaking, intimate, deep-as-a-well love Jesus showed the woman freed her. The love welled up in her to the point she couldn’t contain it. She had to share it. She herself became a well, a fountain overflowing with Christ’s love. She became like Jesus, crossing boundaries, finding those searching for love and telling them to come and see.
When we were plunged into the waters of life, we also became like Jesus, seeking intimacy with all the world, especially in the places that might seem risky and out of bounds—in our enemies, in those who are foreign to us, in those who would persecute us.
We when eat and drink at this wedding banquet every Sunday, we become what we eat. We become the love of Christ for the world.
Do we believe that? Can we imagine it? If so, let’s leave our little water jars and our small love behind and go out to love with astounding, reckless abandon.