Are we Nichodemus or the Samaritan woman?

Third Sunday of Lent

Exodus 17:3-7

In those days, in their thirst for water, the people grumbled against Moses, saying, "Why did you ever make us leave Egypt? Was it just to have us die here of thirst with our children and our livestock?" So Moses cried out to the LORD, "What shall I do with this people? a little more and they will stone me!" The LORD answered Moses, "Go over there in front of the people, along with some of the elders of Israel, holding in your hand, as you go, the staff with which you struck the river. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock in Horeb. Strike the rock, and the water will flow from it for the people to drink." This Moses did, in the presence of the elders of Israel. The place was called Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled there and tested the LORD, saying, "Is the LORD in our midst or not?"

Romans 5:1-2, 5-8

Brothers and sisters: Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in hope of the glory of God. And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For Christ, while we were still helpless, died at the appointed time for the ungodly. Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.

John 4:5-15, 19B-26, 39A, 40-42

Jesus came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there. Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well. It was about noon. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink." His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, "How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?" —For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.— Jesus answered and said to her, "If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, 'Give me a drink, ' you would have asked him and he would have given you living water." The woman said to him, "Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where then can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?" Jesus answered and said to her, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water. "I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem." Jesus said to her, "Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth." The woman said to him, "I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ; when he comes, he will tell us everything." Jesus said to her, "I am he, the one who is speaking with you." Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him. When the Samaritans came to him, they invited him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. Many more began to believe in him because of his word, and they said to the woman, "We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world."

I would like to pair today’s Gospel reading with the conversation of Jesus and Nicodemus in John chapter 3 verse 2 to 21. Apart from being the longest one-on-one talks with Jesus in the New Testament, these two passages also display very interesting similarities and differences.

Nichodemus is a man, highly respected both as a member of the Sanhedrin and morally as a teacher of the law. In sharp contrast, the woman is a Samaritan with no name and is living an indecent life. Nichodemus initiates his visit to Jesus at night whereas it is Jesus who engages the woman in dialogue in broad daylight. Nichodemus’ response is one with uncertainty, misunderstanding and confusion. Being a religious and political insider, Nichodemus is unable to move beyond the confines of the religious system. The woman, an outsider both ethnically and religiously, likewise starts with uncertainty but moves forward and ends up not only believing Jesus but becoming His witness enthusiastically.

Perhaps we can ask ourselves: are we Nichodemus or the Samaritan woman? As Nichodemus, are we contented with our doctrinal constructs but too prudent to invite others to hear them? Is our well acquired religious knowledge making us complacent rather than active in our faith? Are we too cautious of others’ reactions that we dare not give testimonies for our faith? As the Samaritan woman, do we let Jesus’ words lead us and take root in us? Is our faith growing each time when we encounter God’s revelation to us? Do we willingly and openly share our faith experience with others?

Dear friends, we do not need to be another Nichodemus, that is, we do not have to feel confident, secure and knowledgeable enough before we invite others to “come and see” (Jn 4:29). Faith is not about having all the answers, but about what and who we believe. Like the Samaritan woman, she was not truly certain that Jesus was the Christ (Jn 4:29), but that did not deter her from going into the city and saying only what she knew from her own experience. Her testimony compelled others to come and see Jesus for themselves and thus brought a good harvest to Him. It is our generosity to share, our courage to speak and our good will to accomplish that allows God’s grace to work, for “all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28).

Posted: March 19, 2017

May Tam

May Tam, Bachelor of Social Science (University of Hong Kong), Master of Theological Studies (University of Toronto)

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