The scripture readings for today fit very well, especially this weekend as we hold a national day of prayer to put an end to the Corona Virus crisis. We need to turn to God who is the source of living water. In today’s Gospel, the dialogue between Jesus and a woman from Samaria is among the most lengthy and most theological found in Scripture. The most startling aspect of the conversation is that it happens at all. Jesus, an observant Jew of that time, was expected to avoid conversation with women in public. The animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans should have prevented the conversation as well. The woman herself alludes to the break from tradition: “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” Yet Jesus not only converses with the woman, he also asks to share her drinking vessel, an action that makes him unclean according to Jewish law.
Without a constant water-supply our life would be impossible since our bodies need constant hydration. We also need it to wash ourselves. And in this time of crisis we need not only soap, but also water to clean ourselves. The initial conversation between Jesus and the woman is better understood if we consider the importance of water, especially in the climate of Israel. At first, the woman understands Jesus’ promise of “living water” in a literal sense: “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” With no running water, the daily trip to the well by the women of the community was of paramount importance. The women of the town would have traveled to the well in the early morning, but this woman came to the well at noon, the hottest time of the day. The timing of her visit is a clear sign that she is an outcast within the Samaritan community. We learn in her conversation with Jesus that she is an outcast because of her “many husbands.”
Not so obvious is the soul’s thirst for meaning, for vision and purpose in life. We can be so taken up with surface concerns as to neglect our spirit’s longing for God. Like the Israelites, we focus upon our physical needs, but are often unmindful of our Creator who supplies them. The Jews just came from Egypt where they had witnessed Gods miracles. Many times we are just like them. Complaining and mumbling about the suffering, the famines, the tribulation that hits us and forget easily the thingsGod did for us in the past. If we only turn to God He would shows again his might and power. It is Jesus who offers us the reviving water of eternal life, an ability for union with God, which is our deepest need. In today’s Gospel he satisfies a thirsting soul. When water is brought to it, how the desert can blossom. The miracle of growth can take place in the parched soul, if God lets his Spirit flow over us. All doubt, fear and sin will yield to the new life of grace.
Behind the conversation lies the animosity and rivalry between the Jews and the Samaritans. Samaritans shared Jewish ancestry, but Samaritans had intermarried with foreigners when they lived under the rule of the Assyrians. Samaritan religion included worship of Yahweh, but was also influenced by the worship of other gods. When the Jews refused Samaritan help in the building of the Temple at Jerusalem, the Samaritans eventually built a temple for themselves at Mt. Gerizim (the same mountain mentioned by the woman at the well). Like the Jews, the Samaritans believed that a Messiah would come.
Our baptism, the sacrament of our washing with the water of Christian faith was a priveleged contact with the grace of Christ. By it we were planted in the garden of God, with room to put down roots, and draw vital nourishment from the living spring of the Saviour. Yet we need continuing help, to keep spiritually alive and pleasing to God as life goes on. Like the desert-wandering Jews, we suffer from thirst; we grow weary in confronting problems and temptations (sketch examples — ) Jesus guarantees the “living water” we need. His own Spirit is always at hand to give courage and fidelity.
“To dwell in the house of the Lord.” This desire is shared by the mystic tradition in other religions: namely, a yearning to be in the presence of God, and be welcomed by God. All people are called to drink from that fountain that bubbles with life. In times of widespread religious scepticism, the hope of heaven as eternal life after death is often rejected as wishful thinking. But we cling to this hope, relying on the word of Jesus. The early Christians drew hope and joy from this prospect of eternal life. They persevered until death for the sake of “the glory that will be revealed in us.” We too are asked to to live the values of the Gospel, in hope of finally taking our place at the fountain of life.
The significance of the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman has many levels. The first is personal: The woman is herself converted to belief in Jesus as Messiah because he knows her sin but speaks with her just the same. The second is social: Having come to know Jesus as the Messiah, the Samaritan woman becomes an evangelist to her own people. The third level of the story is educational: Jesus uses his encounter with the Samaritan woman to teach his disciples that God’s mercy is without limit. The disciples return from their shopping quite confused to find Je sus talking with a Samaritan, and a woman at that! But the conversion of the Samaritan townspeople is a foretaste of the kind of open community that will be created among those who believe that Jesus is the Messiah. Amen