Year A: Third Sunday of Lent
A Spring of Eternal Life
John 4: 5-42
Jesus 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.
A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink. ”His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. 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.) 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.” [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?” 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.” 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 answered and said to him, “I do not have a husband.” 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.” 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.” 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.” 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.” Jesus said to her, “I am he,the one who is speaking with you.”
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?” 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. 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.”
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.”
- Is there anyone in your community or in your personal life who is saying: “give me a drink”? How are you responding?
- In what areas of your life do you resist, or have you failed to notice the gifts that Christ longs to give you?
- This woman took what she heard from Jesus and immediately evangelized to her townspeople. Do you believe sharing your religious experiences with others is an important aspect of our faith? How often do you do you this?
- The woman at the well teaches us, we don’t need a perfectly ordered life to engage with Jesus. How have your encounters with Jesus altered your priorities?
John 4: 5-42
Margaret Nutting Ralph PHD
As we read John’s story of Jesus meeting a Samaritan woman, we see pattern that we will find throughout John’s Gospel. Jesus will have a conversation in which he uses metaphors to talk about spiritual things. Those to whom Jesus is speaking will misunderstand Jesus’ intent because they understand his words literally. The misunderstanding gives Jesus the opportunity to clarify his meaning. John uses this method because he is trying to teach his audience to think allegorically, to see levels of meaning. Through his Gospel John hopes to help his end-of-the-century contemporaries see that the risen Christ is in their midst.
Jesus comes to a Samaritan town. Jews considered Samaritans to be unclean because they were the descendants of the northern tribes. Who intermarried with their Assyrian conquerors after the fall of the northern kingdom. Jesus does something completely unexpected when he initiates a conversation with the Samaritan woman, not only because she is a Samaritan, but because she is a woman. John makes this clear as he tells us that the disciples “were amazed that he was talking with a woman.
Jesus says, “Give me a drink.” The woman is taken aback by the impropriety of the request. She says, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?”
Jesus then makes the statement that the woman misunderstands. He says, “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 is, of course, speaking of spiritual things. The living water that Jesus has to give is baptism. The sacrament of baptism is one of the ways in which John’s audience can be with Christ, if only they can see that this is true. The woman, however, understands water to mean water. She points out to Jesus that he doesn’t have a bucket so he couldn’t possibly give her water, unless it were a miracle. Not even Jacob, the ancestor after whom the well is named, could do such a thing. Does Jesus think he is greater than Jacob?
The woman’s misunderstanding gives Jesus an opportunity to elaborate: “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.
If John’s audience shared the woman’s original misunderstanding, there is no way they could continue to misunderstand. The water that leads to eternal life is baptism. However, the woman does not yet understand. She says, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” To her, water still means water.
Jesus now changes the subject. He asks the woman to get her husband. When she responds that she does not have a husband, Jesus commends her for telling the truth. “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.” With this statement we can surmise why the woman was at the well by herself in the heat of the day. Given her history, she must have been isolated from the company of the other women who also made daily trips to the well.
The woman does not try to defend herself. Rather, she has her first and partial insight as to the identity of the person with whom- she is speaking. She says, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet.” She then brings up a matter of dispute between the Samaritans and the Jews: Should people worship “on this mountain,” that is, at a temple that had been built in Samaria for worship, or only at the temple in Jerusalem? Remember, by the time John is writing, the temple in Jerusalem no longer exists. It had been destroyed by the Romans. Jesus tells her that the time will come “when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem… But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth.” For John’s fellow Christians, worship is not tied to a geographic place. Rather, wherever people worship, the risen Christ is present.
The conversation then moves on to the identity of the messiah. Here the woman takes another step in recognizing Jesus’ identity. Jesus tells the woman that he is the expected messiah. “I am he, the one speaking with you.
It is at this point that the disciples return and are amazed to see Jesus talking with a woman. They have a conversation with Jesus that illustrates the same pattern of misunderstanding that we saw with Jesus and the woman. The disciples urge Jesus to eat something- Jesus says, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” The disciples think food to eat means “food to eat.” So they say, “Could someone have brought him something to eat?” Their misunderstanding gives Jesus the opportunity to explain. He says, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work.
In the meantime, the woman had been so excited by her conversation with Jesus that she had left her bucket at the well and told everyone she met about her experience. The woman is a true evangelizer. However, she doesn’t want people to rely on her word. She wants them to come and see for themselves. She says to her townspeople, “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?”
The Samaritans respond to her invitation to meet Jesus. After spending two days with Jesus, many of the Samaritans begin to believe. They then give witness to her: “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. ”
By walking together in faith the woman and her townspeople have moved from understanding that Jesus is a prophet to understanding that he may be the messiah to understanding that Jesus is truly “the savior of the world.” Their witness to one another has helped them accept the gift that Jesus wanted to give them all along.
The One who “is Living Water” provides divine life now
If you can trace the spiritual logic that connects the unfolding states of consciousness in the three sequences of this story, you will uncover their spiritual wisdom. Sometimes these “patterns of experience” can be easily grasped. When they are, their wisdom seems undeniable. In other words, the “pattern of experience” in the spiritual teaching matches the experience and patterns in our lives. At other times, the “pattern of experience” in the teaching is difficult to grasp and it challenges the “pattern of experience” in the life of the seeker. In other words, we only partially “get it” and cannot see how it is possible to put the wisdom into action.
The one who hears the voice of the bridegroom rejoices greatly. Here the pattern begins with the joy at hearing the voice of the bridegroom. In the story of the woman at the well, the first sequence is how the Samaritan woman moves from understanding Jesus as a Jew, to understanding him as a prophet, to understanding him as the Messiah, to receiving his revelation of himself as “I am.” She hears his voice when he says, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” When she grasps this “I am,” she participates in this identity. She is filled with being and love, a being and love she has always been looking for. Her joy is great. She has heard the voice of the bridegroom. When she hears the voice of the bridegroom, she becomes the bride who rejoices greatly. This first joy becomes the impetus for mission. She goes forth attracting people to the voice she has heard. These people are symbolically her children. She is presenting them to her true husband, the one who has made her fruitful. This true husband will bless and embrace them, giving them the life that flows through him. She brings others to the one who bestows the gift of God, a gift she has already experienced. In doing this, she enters a second joy, a fullness of joy.
In the next sequence, the spiritual slowness of the disciples contrasts with the spiritual speed of the woman. “Going into town to buy food” is the knee jerk mechanism of those who are unaware of inner food and drink. The disciples are with the Living Water and the Bread Come Down from Heaven, but they have left him to seek food and drink elsewhere. Their imaginations have collapsed into the material level. They always have to “go and buy,” thinking the only resources are outside themselves. The disciples are spiritually dense, and this denseness is the backdrop for the porous receptivity of the woman. Instead of the questioning and give-and-take of real dialogue such as Jesus just had with the woman, the disciples marvel and keep silent. Marveling means they see something they do not understand. But instead of pursuing what they do not know until they know it, they simply do not say anything. This is not the way of spiritual development. If they had asked Jesus, “What do you want? “He would have replied, “I want a drink” If they had asked Jesus, “Why are you speaking with her?” he would have replied, “She is giving me a drink.” This is important knowledge about Jesus, but it is knowledge they will not get because they refuse to ask. The disciples continue their wrongheaded approach. They went to buy food and now they offer it to Jesus. He tells them he has food of which they do not know. This remark of Jesus puzzles them as much as his talking to a woman. But once again they do not ask him what he means. Instead, they talk to one another, sharing their ignorance, and asking the ironic question about someone bringing him food. Of course, the woman has brought him food. When she accepted the food (eternal life) Jesus offered, Jesus’ own hunger was fed.
In the final sequence, the woman’s testimony concerned how Jesus revealed her to herself. He told her she had an unslaked thirst for God and was a woman without a true husband to give her life. Then he gave her a drink and made her fruitful. He disclosed an essential human hunger and then he fed it. Her story of coming into life and love was powerful enough to bring others to believe in Jesus. However, “believing in him” seems to mean they are attracted to him and want to “see for themselves.” Her witness sowed the seed. The effect of the woman’s testimony is not only that the Samaritans come to Jesus. They also know what to ask him. They want him to remain with them. In other words, they want to commune with him, to enter into the structure of his selfhood, to share in his living relationship with God. Through the woman’s testimony they know what Jesus does, and they ask him to do that for them. When the request is correct, Jesus cannot refuse. He remained with them two days. I do not know what “two days” symbolizes. But obviously it is enough time for communing with God in Jesus to happen.
Jesus is the ultimate evangelizer and the fullness of life roaming the world. He is trying to find people to whom to give this life. When people receive life from him, he grows strong. He does not feel depleted but fulfilled. When spiritual life is given and received, it grows; and all, giver and receiver, are invigorated. Jesus begins the conversation by abruptly asking for a drink. But the paradox is: Jesus gets a drink when people allow him to give them a drink. The wise Sufi elder Rumi said: Not only the thirsty seek water, the water as well seeks the thirsty. What the Samaritans know through firsthand contact with Jesus builds upon, but goes beyond the woman’s individual testimony. In hearing for themselves, they have come to know that Jesus is the Savior of the world. What he did for the woman he did for them, and what he did for them he will do for everyone. He not only brings alienated individuals and ethnic groups back into communion with God. He offers divine life to the entire world.
Selections from Breaking Open the Lectionary: Lectionary Readings in Their Biblical Context for RCIA, Faith Sharing Groups, and Lectors—Cycle A, by Margaret Nutting Ralph, Copyright © 2007 by Margaret Nutting Ralph. Paulist Press, Inc., New York/Mahwah, NJ. Reprinted by permission of Paulist Press, Inc. www.paulistpress.com.
Spiritual Commentaries and Teachings are excerpted from The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers by John Shea © 2004 by Order of Saint Benedict. Published by Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota. Used with permission.