A few years ago, Oprah Winfrey gave away 236 cars to her studio audience. The recipients were almost delirious with happiness at the generous, unexpected gift of receiving a car for just being present at the show. Eventually, however, people began to wonder what the catch was. It was almost too good to be true to just be given a free car. Then they began to complain about the taxes they had to pay on the car and wondered if they should have accepted the gift.
In the Gospel story, Jesus offers a Samaritan woman the gift of the living water of God’s eternal life (John 4:5-42). At first, she resisted accepting the gift. Maybe she thought it was too good to be true. Maybe she was afraid of the “taxes” of new responsibilities that would come with accepting such a gift. Reluctant to accept the gift, she threw up some obstacles that got in the way of receiving it.
Through the Sacrament of Baptism, we have been given the given the living water of God’s eternal life. Even though we have received the gift, sometimes, like the Samaritan woman, we put up obstacles that get in the way of letting that eternal life work. For the woman, an obstacle to accepting the gift was prejudice. She was a Samaritan woman and Jesus was a Jewish man. Samaritans and Jews disdained each other. Men and women did not speak in public. For this reason, she could not understand how Jesus would dare ask her for a drink from the well. Where might there be prejudice in our lives? The woman’s cynical attitude questioned in an almost mocking way how Jesus could give her living water from a deep well when he did not even have a bucket. Where might cynicism get in the way of seeing new possibilities in our lives? Her misleading declaration that the man she lived with was not her husband when in fact she had had five husbands, revealed a dishonesty with herself that got in the way of her initial acceptance of Jesus’ offer.
The story does not end with resistance and doubt. It continues because the woman was willing to let go of the obstacles and receive the gift Jesus offered. Perhaps this Lent is a time for us to do the same.
Together in faith,
Very Rev. Christopher Smith