The meeting between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well, the Gospel for the Third Sunday of Lent, is no accidental encounter (John 4:5-42). At first glance, it appears rather coincidental: Jesus is tired and stops to rest, while the woman comes along to fill her water jar. What ensues, however, is far from unintended. This episode establishes a model or a pattern for all those called to be Jesus’ disciples. 

The pattern is this: encounter, invitation. conversion and evangelization. All four of these steps are present in this scene. First, the woman encounters Jesus at the well. He engages her in conversation, asking for a drink. She is incredulous, because Jews do not mingle with Samaritans, and men do not speak to women in public. She is also intrigued, because Jesus speaks in an interesting way. 

Second, there is an invitation from Jesus. In this case, it is Jesus’ invitation to her to ask for the living water. He says, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.  …(W)hoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; (it) will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” At this, the woman is hooked, and she begs the Lord for this water.

Next comes the invitation to conversion. Jesus desires to give her living water; she desires to have it. Yet, she is not ready. We know this because when Jesus tells her to call her husband, she answers with a half-truth, saying that she has no husband. Jesus sees through this and brings out the whole truth: she does not have a husband, but she has had five, and she is currently living with a man. Jesus is not put off by her lifestyle, but He does not condone it, either. Instead, He speaks only the truth and, in so doing, awakens in her a desire to live differently.

This is an important lesson. The recognition of Our Lord’s love for us, and our desire to love Him in return, will lead to true conversion. We will not change our bad habits until we firmly believe in Jesus’ abiding love for us. Once we become aware of that love, anything that stands in our way to Him must be changed or done away with. It is important to pray to be open to His entry into our lives in this way. 

Finally, the woman returns to the village and tells others about Jesus. Notice what she says: “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” She is not ashamed at having been discovered by Christ; instead, she is liberated. In her new found freedom from sin, she is able to share the joy of conversion with others by inviting them to Jesus. This is the fourth step of discipleship: evangelization. 

Our first reading highlights the physical thirst experienced by the Israelites wandering the desert (Exodus 17:3-7). Like the woman, they are thirsting for water, and the experience of feeling thirsty gives us an image of the spiritual thirst we should have for Jesus and the living water that He gives. In the second reading, Saint Paul talks about the peace we have with God which comes to us through Jesus (Romans 5:1-2, 5-8). He calls this the “grace in which we stand.” The grace and peace we have received from God is meant to be a living spring of water within us, that wells up into eternal life. What does it look like? This is the life we live now in union with the Holy Spirit, worshiping God with our thoughts, words and actions, and living in union with Him throughout each and every day.