Lessons of lent: The woman of Samaria
THE lessons of the Lenten season are deeper and more intensive than a university degree programme. It is the study of the mind of God. And it is a course every Christian should take with all seriousness because it is what will graduate you to a higher level of spirituality. If you are a conscientious student of this course, it will lead you to higher level of glory overflow. It is more powerful than any ‘All Night Vigil’ of prayer and healing, more effective than any ‘Crossover Service’. In the real sense of spiritual experience, Lenten season is the Ideal Crossover. It takes us over from darkness to light. The death of Christ crosses us over from death to abundance of life. This is what Jesus offered the ‘daughter of the soil’ from Samaria, the woman at the well, who is our study for today.
Mr. Ochiwu was raised and groomed in the primordial animosity and mutual suspicion between Ayaba, his ethnic group and the Araba people. He believed it and nothing has made him to doubt his inherited dislike for them. The belief that he belonged to a superior ethnic group made him bloated with pride. All other ethnic groups were regarded as uncivilised, unschooled, and by every measurement, substandard. In his own world, he was a fulfilled person, lacking nothing in and lucky to be Ayaba. One day he fell ill and needed surgical operation. While he was on the operation table in the theatre, he lost a lot of blood and so needed blood transfusion. This was successfully done and he was on admission in the hospital recuperating. One day a nurse entered his private ward with a visitor who greeted him in English language but he responded in his own native Ayaba language. He took pride in his native language a lot. The man simply answered in English, “Sorry I do not understand Ayaba. I am Araba. Mr. Ochiwu’s countenance changed. What concerns him with this person of an ‘inferior’ ethnic group? He thought around it, he did not really understand why his sickness should be of concern to a total stranger. He turned to the nurse and asked, ‘so’? The nurse smiled and told him the story. “When your condition became very critical on the operation table in the theatre, none of your family members or friends could donate his or her blood because none matched your rare kind of blood group. It was then that this man appeared in the hospital and volunteered to donate his own blood to you so that you may live. He has only come to see how well you are recovering.” Ochiwu closed his eyes. Many thoughts crossed his mind. “So my brothers and sisters’ blood groups do not match mine? Why is my blood group found in this inferior Araba ethnic group? So now I have Araba ethnic blood in my own system and that is why I am alive?” Ochiwu left that hospital, a changed person.
Jesus appeared at the entrance of the city of Sycharin Samaria with his disciples, hungry, thirsty and worn out, looking for water and food. While he stayed by the well of Jacob, a woman came to draw water. His disciples had gone into the city to look for food. Remember that there was antagonism between the Jews and the Samaritans. It was this kind of stereotyping that made popular the story of the generosity of a Samaritan to a wounded Jew when his own people and religious leaders abandoned him to die by the roadside. Could anything good come out of Samaria? Well, here is a “Good Samaritan”, better than even the religious leaders of Israel. Jesus himself told that story. So he appeared in Samaria, hungry and seemingly needing attention and help, maybe another Good Samaritan may appear.
And the woman of Samaria appeared. Jesus begged her for water but the woman replied in the spirit of the primordial animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans. “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan, so how can you ask me for a drink?” (John 4: 9). This Samaritan is different. No two Samaritans are ever the same, just like every human being is unique. This Samaritan needs help and healing. Jesus immediately went to work, forgetting his own need of water. “If only you know what God gives and who it is that is asking you for a drink, you would ask him, and he would give you the life – giving water” (John 4: 10). The conversation continued until it led to the conversion of the woman. The woman eventually became the beggar, “Sir”, the woman said, “Give me that water! Then I will never be thirsty again, nor will I have to come here to draw water” (John 4: 15). Jesus led her to confess her sins; “I haven’t got a husband” she answered and Jesus replied “You are right when you say you haven’t got a husband. You have been married to five men, and the man you live with now is not really your husband. You have told me the truth” (John 4:17-18). This encounter with Jesus led to her repentance, as she quickly became a carrier of the message; “Then the woman left her water jar, went back to the town, and said to the people there, “Come and see the man who told me everything I have ever done. Could he be the Messiah?” (John 4:28-29).
The woman of Samaritan could be anyone at this season of Lent looking for the water of life. She did not know why she was always in need of water. She thought she could quench her thirst by frequenting her ancestral well. She was so proud of her lineage, heritage and religion. About her lineage she said, “You are a Jew and I am Samaritan, why ask me for water?” (John 4: 9). About her heritage she said “It was our ancestor Jacob who gave us this well, he and his sons and his flocks all drank from it. You don’t claim to be greater than Jacob, do you?” (John 4: 12). About her religion she proclaimed “My Samaritan ancestors worshipped God on this mountain, but you Jews say that Jerusalem is the place where we should worship God” (John 4: 20). In the Nigerian parlance, she is called a “Son (daughter) of the Soil.” But it did not help her to live a decent, stable and happy family and personal life. She needed to know, accept and proclaim Jesus of Nazareth, the author and finisher of our faith.
The woman like many seeming good Christians, was restless in her family and social life. I do not know the kind of spirit and need that will drive a married woman or man to seek pleasure outside his or her matrimonial home. I do not know the thinking that can justify a father or mother of five or more children gallivanting all over the city seeking to satisfy erotic desires. What other kind of spirit will torment a daughter or son of God to become so clannish, so tribalistic, or an ethnic champion, either in the church and religion, business and market, politics and government, lampooning other ethnic groups and saying disparaging things about other ethnic lineage. It is not any other spirit more than what Jesus casted out of the Woman of Samaria. This is different from someone becoming patriotic about his or her village, town, city, state, and country. It becomes negative when it leads you to be bias in your relationship with other persons because of where they come from or the language they speak.
The season of Lent is a healing season. The woman of Samaria met Jesus and was cured of the marital instability. Housing a concubine outside one’s matrimonial home was not strange to the people at the time of Jesus Christ, but God has always frowned at it. Solomon lost his glory and the Kingdom of Israel was never the same because of the many women he kept. Even in our own time, this has not changed. Today in Nigeria, it is fashionable for rich persons, men and women to house sex partners in different cities and even in foreign countries. This is the season to be healed of such money, energy and life guzzling lifestyle. The Lord God warns “Do not spend all your energy on sex and all your money on women (and men), they have destroyed kings” (Proverbs 31: 3). Please realise that such a life is filthy and definitely not good enough for a Christian like you. The season of Lent is for deliverance from such destroying spirits.
The woman of Samaria was shown that worship of God was not just a show to be put up in choice places. So Jesus said to her “Believe me, woman, the time will come when people will not worship the Father either on this mountain or in Jerusalem … but the time is already here when by the power of God’s Spirit people will worship the Father as he really is, offering him the true worship that he wants” (John 4: 21-23). People who run from rural and suburban churches to mega churches in the city where the show of wealth is fierce should take note. That is where your cash and position can gain you the vain glory that you crave but not the kingdom of God. This is the season of introspection and let that spirit be driven out.
Our woman of substance, the woman of Samaria took pride in her lineage and flaunted it at the face of Jesus. Jesus simply answered that if she knew God and how God gives His gifts, she would be humble enough to ask for what she lacks in her life. The woman of Samaria and Ochiwu in our earlier story did not know the story Jesus told of ‘Who is my neighbour?’ The Araba man whose blood matched that of Ochiwu was actually a closer relation, even in blood type, than his brothers and sisters and all his Ayaba ethnic people. We are actually hating and punishing our true and valuable relations simply because they do not speak our language. Jesus healed the woman of Samaria of it. He can do the same for you.
In conclusion, the lesson of the story of the Woman of Samaria is a life changing one for the person who desires a life of great grace which only God can grant. It is good you approach Jesus at the well of grace today. He is waiting, hungry and thirsty for your soul. Engage Him in conversation and give Him the chance.
• Rev. Fr. Ojaje Idoko is Director, Pastoral Affairs Department, Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria
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