She stands as one torn between flight and curiosity. One foot is on the step, rope in hand, leaning towards pulling up the skin of water to fill her jar, the other foot on the ground as if she might suddenly turn and flee.
Though we see only partially the face of Christ His head is slightly tilted upward for she is His focus, while her face betrays a type of skeptical hostility.
Here we have, as it were, the opening scene of one of the powerful examples by St. John the Evangelist of the public-missionary life of Christ.
We humans, sadly and scandalously we Christians, are so quick to judgement, to sneering and accusing without having the whole picture, without meeting, listening to the human being or group we are rejecting because we fail to see each other with the eyes of Christ, fail to listen with the ears of Christ, fail to love with the heart of Christ.
Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye. [Mt.7:1-5]
V.7= A woman of Samaria……
In many countries, women, as in the days of the Woman of Samaria, still have the daily heavy chore of walking, often for miles, to the nearest well to get the day’s supply of water for cooking, cleaning, drinking. It is a time for the women to chat about everything, to receive wisdom, comfort, affirmation from each other.
St. John is telling us, a woman isolated from other women, perceived as a danger to marriage and family life because she was perhaps a prostitute, certainly an adulterous, was clearly not welcome amongst those going to the well in the cool of the morning.
So alone, unwelcome, at high noon in the broiling heat, she comes to the well, every step a burdensome reminder of her isolation.
Approaching the well she would have seen the man sitting there.
Given her history with men likely she was suspicious, perhaps even apprehensive.
V.7-cont.=…..came to draw water.
Water is mentioned over 700 times in Sacred Scripture from: The Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the water. [Gn.1:2] to: …one of the soldiers pierced His side and immediately blood and water came out. [Jn. 19:34] and the last mention is: …Whoever desires, let him come take the water of life freely. [Rv. 22:17].
Water covers the earth in vast oceans, and the Arctic and Antarctic are lands of water frozen as snow or ice. Fresh water, meaning drinkable water, is so essential to life we cannot go more than 3 days without it, yet nowadays millions can only have drinkable water if it is first filtered and chlorinated, or if we can afford to buy bottled watered.
Millions of our brothers and sisters around the world have no access to safe drinkable water and so drink polluted water and are plagued by diseases, some of them fatal.
Insufficient water soaking the earth as rain and crops fail, famine follows.
We all know this intellectually, but I wonder when we let the tap run until the water is as cold as we like before filling a glass, almost without thinking buy yet another bottle of water, or obsessively water lawns, do we ever stop for a moment, give thanks for the gift of water, pray for those who suffer lack of pure water?
Thirst is a terrible thing.
The water the woman had come to draw was no luxury, rather fundamentally necessary.
V. 7 cont.= Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”
Just reading the words of Jesus on the page we might assume a certain curtness in “Give me a drink.” Certainly, we can hear our mothers’ voice telling us about please and thank-you!
However, Jesus speaks at a time and in a culture far removed from ours, plus He was a Jewish man asking for a drink of a Samaritan woman added into the mix.
So, unless we hear the spoken word, see the facial expression, observe the body language, be we reading words spoken in a newspaper article, a work of history or fiction, unless the author adds a descriptive to indicate how the words were spoken: gently, harshly, pleadingly, for example – there is no way to know.
There is another occasion, reported by the Evangelist, when Jesus reveals He is thirsty: After this, aware that everything was now finished, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I thirst”. [cf. Jn. 19:28]
Many Saints across the millennia, St. Mother Teresa among them, have seen Christ’s “I thirst”, spoken on the Cross as His thirst not just for souls in general, but for you, for me, as individuals and the saints have sought to satiate this thirst of Christ through serving the poor, through prayer and acceptance of suffering, through all the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
So, we would not be amiss to ‘hear’ Jesus’ request for a drink spoken with the sound of tender love and thirst for the soul of the Woman of Samaria.
V. 8= His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.
As he often does St. John is giving us a clue here to something very important which we will discover at the end of the dialogue between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. This is also St. John making it clear why Jesus was alone.
V.9= 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.)
Some translations indicate not ‘use nothing’ but rather ‘have nothing in common.’
Despite their common heritage various events over the centuries caused extreme bitterness, even hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans, some were religious/cultic differences, others were claims of right of territorial possession, none them, justified the enmity, just as no cultic, theological, ethnic or other assertion of one group of human beings against another can be justification for hatred and violence in our own day.
It amazes me how human beings can get all gaga when seeing a rainbow, the multiplicity of colours in a field of wild flowers, marvel at the plumage of varieties of birds but go apoplectic when seeing human beings of different colours!
Racism, for example, if we were truly thinking and reflective human beings, is counter intuitive.
Blood has only one colour.
We all bleed red.
Air, so vital to life that it is the very breath of God within us, is colourless.
We all breathe.
Enmity between peoples, the dark seedlings of hatred and violence can only grow in hearts frozen by enmity, is always rooted in the bitter retelling-blaming stories which become ever more divorced from objective truth with each retelling.
Jesus, who knows everything about us, about all human history, thus about His own people and the Samaritans, simply will not participate in the enmity and so His reply is a truth way beyond bitterness, blaming, hatred, anger: v. 10= 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.”
Jesus has also just turned the whole encounter on its head.
From supplicant, He has become gift-giver and the woman no longer the one from whom something is expected: now she is offered gift.
Jesus Himself is the gift of God.
Jesus as gift of God gifts to us also the name of God: Abba/Father and with the Father gifts us the Holy Spirit, who is Himself the living water:
As "by one Spirit we were all baptized," so we are also "made to drink of one Spirit." Thus the Spirit is also personally the living water welling up from Christ crucified as its source and welling up in us to eternal life. [Catechism of the Catholic Church # 694]
Pope Francis has taught eloquently on this when commenting on this very encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan Woman: Jesus promised the Samaritan woman that he will give a superabundance of “living water” forever to all those who recognize him as the Son sent by the Father to save us (cf. Jn. 4:5-26; 3:17). Jesus came to give us this “living water”, who is the Holy Spirit, that our life might be guided by God, might be moved by God, nourished by God……In the Letter to the Romans we find these words: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (5:5). The “living water”, the Holy Spirit, the Gift of the Risen One who dwells in us, purifies us, illuminates us, renews us, transforms us because he makes us participants in the very life of God that is Love…… The Holy Spirit teaches us to see with the eyes of Christ, to live life as Christ lived, to understand life as Christ understood it. That is why the living water, who is the Holy Spirit, quenches our life, why he tells us that we are loved by God as children, that we can love God as his children and that by his grace we can live as children of God, like Jesus. And we, do we listen to the Holy Spirit? ….. Let us hear the Holy Spirit, let us listen to the Holy Spirit and may we move forward on this path of love, mercy and forgiveness. [Pope Francis, General Audience, May 8, 2013]
Vs. 11,12= The woman said to Him, “Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the well is deep; where then can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this well and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?”
From the ‘you, a Jew’ hostility to now a respectful, less hostile, yet in a sense still uncertain about who Jesus is and what this is all about, the woman uses the honourific, “Sir” as she seeks clarity and, by referring to Jacob hints at the common ancestry, shared by both Jews and Samaritans.
There is a softening here of tone and attitude.
Vs. 13,14= 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.”
That drinking a cup of mere ‘created’ water can never satisfy our need for full daily hydration is an obvious observation Jesus makes to counter point the truth He is revealing, namely that within the water He is offering is the gift of the Holy Spirit, but also therein all that Jesus teaches us, which is why the water of Baptism, or rather the Sacrament of Baptism itself, when we first receive the Holy Spirit, is called the gateway to sacramental life.
More, it wells within us like a river upon which we are carried into eternal life!
There is this wonderful vision in Revelation 22:1-5: Then the angel showed me the river of life-giving water, sparkling like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of its street. On either side of the river grew the tree of life that produces fruit twelve times a year, once each month; the leaves of the trees serve as medicine for the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there anymore. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His servants will worship Him. They will look upon His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. Night will be no more, nor will they need light from lamp or sun, for the Lord God shall give them light, and they shall reign forever and ever.
Vs 15-16=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.” Jesus said to her, “Go call your husband and come back.”
The woman is still thinking, or at least by her reply seems to be so, in terms of material, physical thirst and that the water Jesus is offering would mean she would no longer have to endure the daily grind and humiliation of her solitary trips to the well.
Jesus however is offering faith, conversion, a restoration of her human dignity, membership in the community.
Jean Vanier, in his book BECOMING HUMAN, reminds us that: Those who are weak have a great difficulty finding their place in our society.
Acceptance of our weakness, ultimately our need of Jesus and the grace and gift He offers us as He is doing here with the Samaritan woman, is the first step towards faith and conversion of heart: metanoia.
As Jesus Himself teaches us, the journey of faith, the Spirit’s gift of metanoia, is a life journey, indeed a day by day journey: Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. [cf. Mt.16:24]
St. John Paul in his first Holy Thursday letter to Priests in 1979 stresses: We must be converted anew every day, we must rediscover every day the gift obtained from Christ Himself…[cf. op. cit. para.10]
As with the woman here, so with every human being, Christ’s ‘ask’ of us is always invitational, always protective of our human freedom, itself God’s gift to us, to say yes or no: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with Me.” [Rev. 3:20]
This whole dialogue with the Woman is, truly, Jesus knocking at the door of her heart and asking her to go and get her husband is, as it were, handing her the key to unlock the door and open to Him and the living water, the Holy Spirit.
IF she goes to get her husband then she is making a gesture of freedom, she is freely choosing to open the door of her being, in itself an act of faith and trust for:…….faith, in its deepest essence, is the openness of the human heart to the gift of God: to God’s self-communication in the Holy Spirit. Saint Paul writes: “The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” [cf. Dominum Et Vivificantem, para.51.2; encyclical of St. John Paul, May 18, 1986]
v.17= The woman answered and said to Him, “I do not have a husband.”
Speaking truth, indeed making a confession, we can hear not only the woman’s words, but the sound of a door being unlocked.
Ven. Fulton Sheen, in his book, LIFE OF CHRIST, speaking of another adulterous woman’s approach to Christ notes with great compassion: There was love in her boldness, repentance in her tears……[op. cit. p.122]
In his book ORTHODOX PSYCHOTHERAPY, Hierotheos, Bishop of Nafpaktos, quotes St. Gregory Nazianzen, who stresses that “…it is necessary to be truly at ease to know God.” [op. cit. p. 31]
Throughout this encounter Jesus has been putting the woman at ease.
V. 17-18=Jesus answered her, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.”
Jesus zeros in not on her promiscuity but on her truth speaking, for the now unlocked door is beginning to open.
When Pope Francis began stressing the mercy of God early in his pontificate, in his book THE NAME OF GOD IS MERCY, he teaches us that: The Church does not exist to condemn people, but to bring about an encounter with the visceral love of God’s mercy….I like to use the image of a field hospital to describe this “Church that goes forth”; it exists where there is combat. [op. cit. p. 52]
In this encounter of Jesus at the well with the Samaritan Woman we have a template of what Pope Francis is teaching, a template in the first instance for bishops and priests, but for all the baptized on how we should encounter, witness to, love one another.
This encounter between Jesus and the woman is also a template for patient, attentive, dialogue, for apparently instant conversions, at least authentic ones, are rare – look at the struggles of a St. Augustine or a St. Teresa of Avila.
Vs. 19-20= The woman said to him, “Sir, 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.”
Things have moved now from ‘you’ the Jew to ‘sir’ to ‘prophet’ indicating growing trust and respect, but still some resistance.
It is as if having unlocked the door of her being, opened it slightly, she is guarding the door still, needing perhaps assurance Jesus is indeed whom she thinks He may be.
So, she reaches back to the old enmity between Jews and Samaritans.
Vs. 21-24=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.”
In His reply, it is striking that Jesus, who has just heard the woman speak of ‘worship’ as generalization specifies that she, indeed everyone, will “worship the Father.”
It is Jesus who, after the millennials of human history, and specifically that of the Chosen People, reveals that God is indeed our Father.
Further, Jesus lays out the whole mystery of the Trinity while announcing that the fulfillment of the prophecies, which point to Himself and the gift of redemption, is at hand.
V.25= The woman said to Him, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Anointed; when He comes, He will tell us everything.”
Now she has opened to the door to Jesus. Not yet has she invited Him in, but in her own way, minus any of the previous attitude, she is conversing, person to person and, in her own way, making a statement of faith and hopeful expectation.
What is this ‘everything’ that the Messiah, the Anointed One, will tell us, will tell her?
First and foremost, that ‘everything’ is what Jesus tells her, namely that the Expected One is now among us: V. 26= Jesus said to her, “I am He, the one who is speaking with you.”
How wonderful as He reveals Himself Jesus stresses that He is speaking ‘with’ her.
Too often when we seek to evangelize we speak ‘at’ or ‘to’ people, not with them.
Now she can allow Jesus to cross the threshold of her being for she no longer is speaking with a mere man but with the Messiah, the Redeemer, the sought-after Beloved Himself!
Next there is an interruption and here the words of William Barclay in his commentary on the Gospel of St. John, volume 1, page 103 apply: We must always remember that beneath John’s simple stories is a deeper meaning which is open only to those who have eyes to see. In all his gospel John never wrote an unnecessary or an insignificant detail. Everything means something and everything points beyond.
V. 27=At that moment His disciples returned, and were amazed that He was talking with a woman, but still no one said, “What are you looking for?” or “Why are you talking with her?”
Then an amazing thing happens, reminiscent of all the running to and fro, Easter Sunday, as people ran around proclaiming: HIS IS RISEN!
V.28/29/30= The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could He possibly be the Messiah?” They went out of the town and came to Him.
Metanoia, conversion of heart, leads to a willingness to proclaim, and for the Samaritan Woman this meant the courage to do so in the heart of the very community which held her in disdain and rejected her.
Indeed, given enmity between Jesus and the woman at the outset, for she noted He was a Jew and she a Samaritan, that between her and the people of the town, not merely her lifestyle but the state of her soul, then what transpires once she allows Christ to enter her being and transform her heart, we see what St. Gregory Nyssa illustrates when he teaches on Christian perfection: We have Christ, who is our peace and our light. He is our peace, who has made both one. Since Christ is our peace, we shall be living up to the name of Christian if we let Christ be seen in our lives by letting peace reign in our hearts. He has brought hostility to an end, as the apostle said. Therefore, we must not allow it to come back to life in us in any way at all but must proclaim clearly that it is dead indeed. God has destroyed it in a wonderful way for our salvation. We must not, then, allow ourselves to give way to anger or bear grudges, for this would endanger our souls. We must not stir up the very thing that is well and truly dead, calling it back to life by our wickedness. But as we bear the name of Christ, who is peace, we too must put an end to all hostility, so that we may profess in our lives what we believe to be true of him.
Bl. Pope Paul VI: "Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses."
This is who the Samaritan woman is, a witness first and then a teacher and as a result the people went to meet Jesus, which means they too spoke with Him, and clearly, listened and took what He said to heart.
Was St. John, presumably at a respectful distance, present for the entire exchange between Jesus and the Samaritan Woman, or did he seek her out after the event to fill in the details?
In any event he would have been present when, the disciples have returned, the following took place: VS.31-38= Meanwhile, the disciples urged Him, “Rabbi, eat.” But He said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” So the disciples said to one another, “Could someone have brought Him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish His work. Do you not say, ‘In four months the harvest will be here’? I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest. The reaper is already receiving his payment and gathering crops for eternal life, so that the sower and reaper can rejoice together. For here the saying is verified that ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the work, and you are sharing the fruits of their work.”
Over and over Jesus draws from the ordinary of life to illuminate the realities of who and why we are as persons, what the gift of life is ultimately about: As the Baltimore Catechism of my childhood stated, God creates us to: know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next. Thus, too the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in the Prologue, # 1, re-affirms: God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Saviour. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life.
St. John closes this critical section of the Gospel with these verses: 39-42: Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me everything I have done.” 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.”
All of us, in imitation of Christ, as did the Apostles, as did the woman, as baptized Christians are called to witness to Christ and to teach the Gospel.
When a heart is open to Christ in the Gospel the person must then have a personal experience of Christ. The greatest of these personal experiences with Him occur within the Sacraments: Baptism, Reconciliation, Holy Eucharist, Confirmation, Holy Marriage, Priesthood, Anointing of the Sick.
Strengthened by sacramental grace we remain faithful, courageous even, especially in these days when Christians are constantly derided, hated, persecuted, even martyred.
Many stories have been handed down by oral tradition long before someone wrote anything down about the lives of various people who do appear in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles without accurate historical records of their later lives.
Purists may fret over the lack of historical records, but there is a strong presence of the sensus fidelis: Thanks to the assistance of the Holy Spirit, the understanding of both the realities and the words of the heritage of faith is able to grow in the life of the Church……[Catechism of the Catholic Church #94].
Thus, since devotion to St. Photini has been handed down over the generations, it is a beautiful tradition, inspiring, that the Woman has been given a name and is celebrated as one faithful to Christ to the very end, martyrdom.
St. Photini prayer for us.