Gospel Story of the Week
Jesus meets the woman at the well (John 4:1-42)
“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)
The core message of this story is that Jesus gifts us with the living water of God’s redemptive love. This unique and powerful force – so different from anything the woman has named “love” before – heals, reconciles, and transforms. The good news of the story is that this redemptive love is the only thing that can satisfy the woman’s deeper thirst. It is her encounter with Jesus that reveals this living water.
Even though the woman has a desperate thirst for this love, she initially resists it. Through her encounter with a stranger, she is able to let go of her resistance and open herself to this remarkable gift. When she invites the stranger in, she surrenders to the transforming power of God’s redemptive love.
As we experience God’s redemptive love, our orientation toward life changes in profound ways. Just as the woman at the well moved beyond defensiveness to acknowledge her deeper thirst and asked for the living water, my experience of being wounded by my father’s abandonment caused me to respond in self-protective ways, expecting to be disappointed.
The changes I’ve experienced in my own fundamental orientation toward life have come slowly and gradually. I have never had a one-time encounter that led to the kind of dramatic transformation and healing that the Samaritan woman experienced at the well. For her, the living water was a waterfall. For me it has been more like a long soak in a soothing bath. My gradual change has been nurtured by a number of strangers and friends over a period of years. But my experience has also been powerful. Over time, I’ve been able – at least on my good days – to let go of pain and move beyond the belief that there is something wrong with me. Over time, I have come to trust that I am deeply loved and reach out to others with renewed energy. The same redeeming power of God that touched the woman at the well has also touched me.
Experiencing redemptive love transforms the way we see life and respond to it. The Samaritan woman’s encounter with Jesus changes her core beliefs about love. On her way to the well, her beliefs about love probably went something like this: falling in love is wonderful, but it doesn’t last. Men want to sleep with me, but I’ll soon be abandoned and alone again.
In her encounter with Jesus, the woman experiences a different love than she knew was possible. As she is transformed, so are her core beliefs about love and about herself. On the way to the well, she probably believes that something is wrong with her. Her past experiences taught her that as soon as a lover gets to know her, he abandons her. At the well, she experiences a man who knows everything about her and loves her more deeply than she ever thought was possible. The encounter gives her an entirely different experience of herself, and it transforms her core beliefs about herself. She now knows what it is to be loved unconditionally for being the very one that she is. Her experience of being healed and transformed by redemptive love gives her the courage to believe in her own innate goodness. For the first time in her life, she is able to trust that she has found a love that will last.
From my experience of growing up in a chemically dependent family, I know something of core beliefs and how they need to change. Through my struggles growing up, I developed the core belief that “I have the power to help myself.” The core belief was quite helpful because it gave me the courage to cope with many difficulties. Over time, however, it became less functional and took on a life of its own.
As a young adult, I had become so self-reliant that I couldn’t accept help from others. By that time my core belief – which was deeply ingrained but only partially conscious – went something like this: “I have to do it all, by myself, perfectly.” This core belief demanded achievement, control, rugged individualism and perfection. It was a heavy burden loaded with guilt and stress that drove me to work too hard and expect too much of myself. When I acted on this core belief, my behavior often compromised my professional effectiveness and undercut my ability to build intimate relationships.
Slowly, as I became more conscious of this core belief, I came to grasp its negative impact on my life. I realized it left no room in my life for the gift another can give me or for the redemptive love of God. Over time, I have been able to modify this core belief somewhat. Now the statement that captures my core belief is: “I’ll do what I can, with the help of God and others, and trust that good will come from my efforts.” This new core belief embodies less control, more trust, and an openness to God’s redemptive love.
During this season of Lent, we are urged to examine our orientation to life and our core beliefs. We are called to open ourselves to the redemptive love of God and give God the room to work in our lives. Like the woman at the well, we need to open ourselves to the unconditional acceptance of a God who loves us deeply. As we embrace the Living Water of redemptive love, we will find ourselves letting go of control and learning to trust that God and others are there for us in surprising ways.
Questions to Ponder
- In what ways have you been touched and changed by the transforming power of God’s redeeming love?
- In what ways has God’s love opened you to see life in new ways?
- How has experiencing God’s love changed your core beliefs about yourself, about life and about God?
Invitation to Prayer
Jesus, living water, in my thirst I turn to you.
Jesus, living water, help me move beyond my guilt and shame. Teach me to love myself with an unconditional love that heals, reconciles and transforms. For so much of my life, I’ve lived with the belief that there is something wrong with me. Help me open myself to your redeeming love, trust my own goodness and learn to love myself. In my thirst, I turn to you.
Jesus, living water, give me the courage to live as one touched and changed by your redeeming love. Gift me with passion and energy to tell others how your love has transformed me. Help me discover the mission that you call me to fulfill and let me embrace it with passion. In my thirst I turn to you.
Jesus, living water, in my thirst I turn to you.