It is high summer.
In North America and several countries in Europe the hot dry weather has spawned the usual rash of wildfires.
In parts of Africa drought and famine spread.
While heat does warm the earth, causing seeds to grow, too much heat kills: plants, animals, human beings.
We humans can only live three days without water.
St. John, knowing well the reality of life in a desert country, as he frequently does throughout the Gospel, paints a vivid picture of heat causing fatigue and thirst and within that reveals more of the real humanity of Christ.
St. Paul reminds us that: …Christ Jesus Who, though He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. [Phil. 2:5-8]
4:1-3= Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, just His disciples), He left Judea and returned to Galilee.
Given that the Evangelist wrote down his Gospel account of Jesus’ life and teachings, post-Pentecost, it is indeed crucial that St. John points out that Jesus did not baptize because, he would totally understand that what John the Baptist, and some of the enthusiastic disciples of Jesus, at this early stage still lacking a clear understanding of Jesus’ person and mission, were ‘baptizing’ in a symbolic sense, not as the actual sacrament of baptism, instituted by and mandated by Jesus: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” [Mt.28:19]
In the above verses from St. John we are reminded again that Jesus’ life on earth, His public life was never static. Mostly He is on the move, as if trying to get to every place, especially where the Chosen People lived.
This is missionary movement.
This is why the Church Herself can never be static, nor any diocese or parish, nor any individual Christian.
We must always be on the move, seeking, reaching out, proclaiming the Gospel with our lives, without compromise.
The way in which we do so will vary according to our vocation, but even a smile offered to a stranger on a crowded bus is an act of evangelization.
Indeed, it is the witness of our authentically Christ-centered lives, for by baptism we are Christophers, that is Christ-bearers, and not words, which will bring people to Christ. Once people have embraced the witness then their hearts will be open to hear the teachings of Christ: Tertullian, writing around 200AD, shows how astonished the majority pagan community was about the smaller Christian community, whose love and care for one another, Tertullian asserts, caused the pagans to declare: “See how they love one another.”
Such an observation of love in action leads to curiosity, which leads to approach from which flows questioning that becomes dialogue and then an ask to be baptized.
Vs. 4-6=He had to pass through Samaria. So He 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.
Translated here as noon, the term ‘noon’ is more often translated as ‘the sixth hour’, we see this in the Synoptic accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus noting moments which occurred at the sixth to the ninth hour, that is from noon until three in the afternoon. [cf. Mt. 27:45; Mk. 15:33,34; Lk. 23:44]
In most countries of the world, at least in summer, the hours between noon and three are the hottest of the day, indeed in some countries the heat during those hours can be brutal, even dangerous.
Oddly enough when meditating on these verses – and one never knows where meditations might go, perhaps in this case because it is near three in the afternoon on a hot summer’s day – a Noel Coward ditty came to mind from my childhood when, after the more serious anthems and classics had been sung as we celebrated Empire Days, Coward’s song MAD DOGS AND ENGLISHMEN would be sung by all with much glee, the colonials making fun of the particular British approach to peoples of the Empire: “In tropical climes there are certain times of day when all citizens retire……because the sun is much too sultry…..But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.”
When we meditate upon the crucifixion of Jesus it is important to be aware He was crucified on the top of a hill during the hottest time of the day; to remember most people in countries of extreme heat do not have air conditioning, easy access to cool water; even in countries such as mine, where days above 25 Celsius/70 Fahrenheit, are rare, except in July.
Many countries with milder, even northerly climates, can still have days of brutal heat and the poor, the homeless, outside workers, the elderly, the sick, expectant mothers, small children, suffer much in the heat.
There is nothing in the life of Jesus, even if it seems to be mentioned almost in passing, that is outside of the experience of any human being.
Many of us live in cultures replete with elevators, escalators, moving sidewalks, air conditioning, and either public transportation systems or own our own cars replete with air conditioning, and cup holders for nicely chilled bottled water.
Not the case for millions of our brothers and sisters who must walk everywhere in the hundreds of countries that do not have such things, indeed even in countries with such things the homeless must walk everywhere to beg for food, for water, a place to sleep at night, and not to be gross about it but they and millions of the poor around the world even have to find a place to go to the bathroom.
So here Jesus, having walked for hours is hot, exhausted, thirsty.
He sits down at the well.
How very human!
Who among us has not experienced at some point being overheated, thirsty, worn out and sought a place of shade, rest, where we might slake our thirst?
Just as Jesus did.
But this is all prelude to the central event!