“Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied with his journey, sat thus on the well: and it was about the sixth hour. There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink. (For his disciples were gone away unto the city to buy meat.) Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans. Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water. The woman saith unto him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water? Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle? Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. The woman saith unto him, Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw. Jesus saith unto her, Go, call thy husband, and come hither. The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband: For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly. The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet. Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. The woman saith unto him, I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things. Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he.” John 4: 1-26
We are continuing our study of the Fourth Gospel. Here is the situation on the ground. Recall that John the Baptist had declared that Jesus is the Bridegroom and he, John, is the Friend of the Bridegroom. John has spoken with finality about himself and his own ministry as well as the ministry of Jesus:
“He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease” John 3:29 & 30
If you look at the very last few verses of John 3 you would think they are spoken by Jesus, but in fact they are spoken by the Baptist. The reason you would think they are spoken by Jesus is because the soliloquy is all about Jesus as the Heavenly Man, the beloved Son of the Father, who already possesses all power, might, dominion, and virtue in the whole universe. That is John speaking and it shows how quickly he grasped what God was doing.
And now, beginning in chapter 4, the Evangelist tells us that the Pharisees’ back in Jerusalem learned that Jesus was making more disciples than John and at that point Jesus and his disciples left Judaea and headed to Galilee. But in order to get to Galilee from where they were, they had to go through Samaria. That in itself is highly problematic because Samaria, from the Jewish perspective, is essentially Gentile territory. Jesus’s commission to his disciples in Matthew reflects that Jewish perspective:
“These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Matthew 10:5 & 6
Of course, as the way of all flesh would have it, the Samaritans considered themselves to be the true religion of Israel. Note that Jesus is moving his disciples and his ministry into Galilee in order to bring his ministry to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” who were Galileans. And remember too that most of his inner circle of disciples were Galileans. But in order to get to Galilee he had to detour through Samaria. John makes a point of this necessity. And note how they move from one source of water to another.
I invite you to reflect upon water. Look how water has loomed large in the Fourth Gospel so far and we are just getting started. Water is used for bathing and washing as well as for ritual purification. Reflect upon how we use water in the Church. There is the baptismal fount at the entrance of the Church always filled with holy water, blessed for the good of the children of God. We, of course, were baptize in water. We always mix the Chalice of wine with a little water for the purpose, as you know, of showing forth both the Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ (in the wine), as well as the humanity of our Lord in the blessed water. And before the celebrant begins the canon of the mass, once the gifts are on the Altar, with the assistance of an acolyte he will wash his hands and perform a ritual purification that goes back to the First Century Church. But in addition to all that, we like the people who inhabit John’s Gospel, drink water for our health and well being. We know what thirst is and we shall soon see how thirst, a discomfort, a distress that is common to all our lives, yesterday and today is a key metaphor for the Fourth Gospel. Men, women, and animals die without sufficient water and in the Gospel we see no scarcity of water. In fact water is abundant beginning in chapter 1, flowing and guiding and even spilling over the banks of the Jordan — aptly named “living water” because it was always moving and such water may be described as the gift from God. And then there is the water that may be reached by digging a well, in which case it may be thought of as the gift of a venerable ancestor, one of the grand patriarchs. Here is the whole range of our common life in Christ: water and life, fatigue and rest, running water and wells, all gifts from God. But we know by now that the literal, historical meaning of such real-life experiences has a deeper, mystical meaning that the Evangelist, as well as Jesus, means for us to grasp and that is that water is foremost biblical:
“As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?” Psalm 42:1 & 2
But it was the Psalmist coming and appearing before God; it was the other way around, God had come and appeared before the world. He came that the world might have life, his life. He came to manifest the love of the God for the world, as well as to destroy sin and death. And he ministry was hardly underway before he was compelled to escape to Galilee by the shortest and quickest route, and so he was required to journey through Samaria. John the Baptist never took his prophetic ministry into Samaria and as you have already seen, Jesus gave instructions to this disciples to say away from all Gentiles and that included the Samaritans. But here we are, or rather here he is, hungry, tired, and thirsty, setting not upon a throne, not upon a cushion, but on the ground, by Jacob’s Well.
And then there comes this Woman fetching water at a most peculiar time, mid-day. There follows a conversation that reminds us of the conversation he had with Nicodemus when he could not see beyond the literal, historical meaning of things. But it is the contrast between the two that is so remarkable — Nicodemus, the Teacher of Israel, comes to Jesus under the cover of darkness. The Woman of Samaria comes to Jesus at mid-day when the sun is at its brightest.
The setting for Jesus’ discourse with the Woman of Samaria is Jacob’s Well and that makes Jacob and indeed all the Patriarchs present for the reader. But around the well the setting grows — not only is there Jacob’s Well, but his oak trees and terebinth, the property he had given to his son Joseph, and not far off from that spot was Joseph’s grave. This is a piece of real estate charged with thousands of years of Old Testament holiness and meaning. So here, at the bright and blistering time of day, our exhausted Lord was resting, his disciples were in the village, and then came the Woman:
“There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink. (For his disciples were gone away unto the city to buy meat.) Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.”
Jesus asked her for a drink of water and that seems natural enough to us, but it was not. First of all, the Woman, says, rightly, that Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. And secondly, something Jesus will make clear to her in only a few minutes, he who was asking her for a drink of water to assuage his thirst was the giver of all the sweet, cool, flowing water in the whole universe. The paradox, the mystery, the mystical reality grows to its greatest poignancy in chapter 19 when our Lord hangs dying upon the Cross and cries out once again, “I thirst.”
What humility — our God stoops to conquer; his great love for his creature has bent him down. Jesus humbles himself before Woman. As I have pointed out before, please notice the posture. Jesus is resting on the ground next to the well. She is standing. Jesus must look up to her. “Give me a drink, I thirst.” Whether she immediately gave him a drink of water we don’t know. What we do know is that she immediately began arguing with him, albeit in a somewhat playful manner. And that conversation developed into a rather long theological discussion. But he wouldn’t argue back. Rather he made promises. He promised her Living Water. She must have thought, “He can’t even get regular, run-of-the-mill water for himself and he is promising me ‘living water’ –- and that from a well.” But that is exactly what he did. He told her that if she would merely ask him, (she, this unwanted, despised, rejected, manipulated and manipulating sinner) then God Almighty would fill her life with true happiness. She has one cheeky comeback after another. Then in a flash she says: “I know that Messiah is coming and when he does he will make everything right.” And then Jesus says to her: “I who speak to you am he.” There you have it! How unambiguous! What frank openness! What love! I have said this before. Is there another event you can cite in the New Testament where Jesus declares his personal identity so straightforwardly, so clear-cut?
The Church collectively remembers Jesus’ thirst. It isn’t the image of him dozing off against the well, or having a discussion with a theologian like Nicodemus in the Temple or winning arguments or gathering a following. What Holy Mother Church recalls and proclaims is that the God of the Universe stooped to become one of us. Stooped to our fragile nature. Stooped to our weakness. And he did so simply because he loves us. As we have never been loved. Such pure love, such unbounded, liberated love that we find it very hard to believe. The Woman of Samaria met her True Husband that day and her identity was transformed. This Woman is Holy Mother Church, the Bride of Christ. So here we are: We have the Friend of the Bridegroom, we have the Bridegroom himself, and now we have met his chosen Bride. Next week we will take a closer look at her.
“The woman saith unto him, I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things. Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he.”