Monday, March 13, 2023

Keep Striking the Rock by Rev. Richard Vosko




We’ve often heard the expression “you can’t get water out of a stone.” It usually means we are up against enormous odds to get something done. Well, apparently Moses knew how to do so. In the first reading he was told to “strike that rock and water will flow.” And, the water did flow and it kept the Israelites hydrated on their arduous, dangerous journey to the promised land.

According to legend a wellspring was beneath the rock that Moses struck and is known as Jacob’s Well. It is mentioned only once in the Bible, in today’s gospel, where Jesus and the Samaritan woman had a forbidden but life changing conversation. Eastern Orthodox Christians call her Photina which means “luminous one.”

The Jews and Samaritans were old enemies even though they shared borders and Torah teachings. The two groups argued over what was the exact cultic location for the worship of God and they never came to peace, never reconciled. So, it was dangerous for Jesus and his team to travel through Samaria back to Galilee.

But, Jesus was thirsty and stopped for a drink of water in Sychar. The woman he met there apparently was worn down, troubled and perhaps wondering what to do with her confused life.  To dwell on Photine as an immoral woman is to miss the point of this gospel. She had no idea of what to expect when she found Jesus waiting for her. Often, when we wonder what to do next in our lives, Jesus shows up to give us advice, to get us back on track, to take us to new places.

Two unusual things happened to Jesus and Photine. First, she prompted Jesus to identify himself as the messiah and he did. Scholar Jennifer Garcia Bashaw wrote: “it is the only time that Jesus reveals this truth to another person. That the person he trusts himself to is a Samaritan and a woman is deeply significant.”

During this rendezvous the woman Photine also learned something life-changing about herself, something that made her feel alive again and that she mattered. She becomes an influential evangelist, a leader among disciples. Biblical scholar John Pilch wrote: clearly, a cultural subversion took place at the well. "Modern social scientists would probably call this interaction [between Jesus and the woman] a cultural innovation.” 

The clear message in this gospel is that Jesus brings about a new way of living for all peoples. Anyone or anything today that prevents living water from nourishing lives and helping people to grow and change, must be removed. 

Maybe that scene in Samaria could be considered the very first International Womens Day. Now an annual event this year focuses on “embracing equity.” We owe thanks to the evangelist John for pointing to the importance of women in a community.

The story about Moses reminds us, too, about those times when we strike the rock and no water comes out? How often has a synodal church called for “embracing equity” so women can experience what Photine did? How often have the global cries for women’s rights been ignored by patriarchal hierarchies who want to keep their power?

Recently, African philosopher Françoise Diarra wrote: “Women have been the backbone of the church when it comes to the hard work … but when it comes to giving the reins to women, it is not so easy. Men are in charge of everything that happens in the Church, and women take a back seat.”  Diarra called for a special Synod to address women’s roles in the church.

Jesus was a spirited advocate for equal rights for all people. Photine and other women found new life because of Jesus’s radical action and courage to break boundaries. Each of us is called by our baptism to do the same, to erase barriers that prevent all people from being nourished at the font of living water. We cannot harden our hearts once we hear the voice of Jesus.

Today’s readings about water are important to us at this time of year. Lent is a season for transformations. It calls us to think anew about our baptismal identities as Christians in a secular world.

If we ourselves thirst for life giving water, if we want others to drink the same water of life, we must be proactive. We just have to keep striking the rock!


1. Garcia Bashaw is associate of New Testament at Campbell University. <>


3. Diarra is professor of philosophy in the Archdiocese of Bamako, Mali.

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