Lent calls us to step aside from our ordinary routines, to spend time listening to God, to believe that we can tell our stories in a new way. The word of God challenges us to explore the story of our faith once more and discover for ourselves that Jesus really is “the savior of the world”—and what this means in our own lives. We come to believe not because others have told us we must, but because our own hearts tell us we must. The Samaritan woman has known pain and disappointment and the restless search for a life of happiness and meaning. She has known the deadening routine of coming each day to the same well for water that will enable her to live just one more day. She thinks sometimes that there must be more to life, if only someone would tell her a new story. But she has heard so many stories and always they end the same way. We, too, thirst for something real, something genuine, something that will refresh us. But in our desperation we often settle for far less than we feel we deserve, because the life we know demands less of us than the life we dream.
She wants to believe, but she fears yet another disappointment, so this time she wants to be sure. Her opening challenge is filled with suspicion and mistrust. Belief always makes vulnerable lives that are accustomed to strong defenses. And the brutal reality is that at times belief will be disappointed, trust will be betrayed. But Jesus challenges the woman to believe once more, to risk one more time, to give new life one more chance. He challenges her to tell her story, to listen to the story he has to tell, to believe that this time it can be different.
The Lord is never surprised by our restlessness, our disappointment, our fearful, hurting challenges. Just as God calmed Moses’ ruffled authority and gave the people water from the rock, Jesus responds to the woman at the well with challenges of his own that promise life and refreshment. Deeper and deeper they reach into the well of self, of faith, of trust, where the living and life-giving water is to be found. Together Jesus and the woman explore the stories of needs and wounds and beliefs.
We might be surprised by this woman’s questions about the right place to worship God. This was a big issue for the people of Jesus’ day. Many of our friends and family members have questions about religion. We might have questions ourselves. Jesus listens and responds with an openness to truth that we would do well to remember in the midst of heated discussions. The Gospels remind us again and again that often God’s truth is bigger than the little rules that we find so reassuring, those things that tell us that ours is the only way.
Today’s Gospel reminds us that at the center of our faith is what has often been called “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” We are the stories of our past—stories we tell, stories other people tell about us—but we can become the stories God tells for our future. This is the message of the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. This is what we do when we read Scripture, when we gather with others to talk about the Scriptures. We immerse ourselves in the big story, in God’s story, and then we see where the stories of our own lives reflect a piece of that story. And in that intersection, we find the living water of faith.