Our need to drink regularly is obvious; without water, we would quickly die. Not so easily recognized is the soul’s thirst for meaning, for vision and purpose in life. We can be fully preoccupied with the surface of things, and quite neglect our spirit’s obscure longing for eternal life. Like the Israelites, we worry constantly about physical need but are often unmindful of God who supplies them. Today, Jesus offers us the refreshing water of eternal life, a power of faith and union-with-God which is our deepest need and can satisfy the thirst of our soul. How the desert blossoms, when water is brought to it! The same miracle of growth can take place in the parched soul if God lets his Spirit flow over me. All the ravages of doubt, fear and sin will yield to the new life of grace.
The Samaritan woman was certainly aware of her physical need for water and hence she comes to the well. But she has other needs too. The fact that she comes alone at noon is telling. With five husbands in her background, she might well be the scorn and laughing-stock of the other women so best avoid all that nonsense by coming alone. Except that on this day she is in for a shock as she finds a total stranger there sitting down next to Jacob’s well. She probably thought she could discreetly ignore him, quickly snatch a bucket of water and vanish. But no, he asks her for a drink and there begins a marvellous dialogue that gives us a wonderful insight into how sensitive and compassionate Jesus is towards this woman.
With a dubious name and from a semi-pagan people, she might well have felt inferior before this Jewish stranger, but Jesus doesn’t look down on her because he doesn’t know how to look down on anybody. In addressing her and asking for a drink Jesus is breaking down barriers of race and gender. As regards race, Jews would have nothing to do with the Samaritans. They would not even take food from them. The fact that the disciples have gone to buy some food suggests a relaxing of this law, perhaps due to Jesus’ presence. Speaking to a woman is another no-no where the culture will not even allow a man to speak to his wife in public. But Jesus dismisses all of this to get to the key point, namely, “If you only knew what God is offering and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me something to drink’, you would have been the one to ask, and he would have given you living water”.
Here Jesus is speaking to her deepest need — in fact, the deepest need for all of us — namely, her need of God. It is only God who can fill to overflowing the deep hungers of the human heart. What’s more, God is offering this to all of us. This deeply ingrained desire for God is not something confined to Christians but shared by the mystics in other religions: namely, the yearning to come into the presence of God, and be welcomed by God. All of us are called by him to drink of that “fountain of water, springing up to everlasting life.” In times of widespread religious scepticism, the hope of heaven as eternal life after death is often cast in doubt as wishful thinking. But we cling to this hope, relying on the word of Jesus. For Paul and the early Christians, the hope of eternal life breathed joy into all their efforts and sacrifices. Fidelity until death seemed well worthwhile, “for the weight of glory that will be revealed in us.” Our part to play is turning aside from sin, and trying to live by the gospel. God can be absolutely relied on to fulfil his promise, and will in time satisfy the deep thirst of our spirit.
St. Thomas Aquinas said that “this woman, once Christ instructed her, became an apostle.” We notice that in her eagerness to announce the wonderful works of Christ, she left behind her water jar. Her physical needs have suddenly taken a back seat! But what message did she bring? She had great theological discussions about living water, Jacob’s importance, correct worship, prophets and the coming Messiah. But she doesn’t relate any of these matters. Instead, she says: “He told me everything I have done.” In discussion with Jesus she had said that the coming of the Messiah would “tell us everything,” but there was no hint that everything would be primarily personal information. And yet it was this personal knowing that made the difference. What really counted for her was that Jesus revealed himself to the woman and revealed her to herself.
What’s interesting about this in the context of Lent is that we have a conversion story that doesn’t focus at all on sinfulness or even traditional repentance but rather on being known and accepted. Jesus challenges her about her five husbands but there is no follow-up on the topic. No talk about straightening out her life, no discussion about laws concerning divorce and remarriage, nor about whether she could commune with him in her current state. The message she took home spoke of none of that. She had been accepted for everything she was, just as she was That fulfilled her need.
In Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis writes: “Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that she or he has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus. That is exactly what happened to the Samaritan woman. Her interaction with Jesus filled her with the living water (the Spirit) that made her an apostle, one who enticed others into a similar encounter.
Our faith too is based on a personal encounter with Christ, the one whose effect on us is like cascading water, water filling us and bubbling over into joyful expressions of our being so loved just as we are that we are impelled to continue the relationship and share it. The conversion revealed here is about focussing on Jesus and God’s love, nothing more and nothing less.
Sunday, 19th March 2017