Chapter 21: The Samaritan Woman
Meeting Christ changes lives. When the Samaritan woman went to the well for water, she met the One who gave her the living water and taught her that genuine worship is not limited by place or location, but by the spirit and truth. The life of the Samaritan woman was changed completely and she became his missionary.
How do you assess your encounters with people? Do they consist of good news of salvation and peace? Do they include constructive conversations? Why have you joined this catechetical group? What is your experience with Jesus? Are you considering a pilgrimage or a visit to holy sites? Do you firmly believe that God is present in the Middle East, as in Europe and elsewhere, following your steps and listening when you call upon Him? These questions are what we will try to address in our meeting today.
2- Reading and understanding the Gospel: Jesus talks to a Samaritan Woman (Jn 4:1-42)
1When Jesus heard that the Pharisees had found out that he was making and baptizing more disciples than John – 2though in fact it was his disciples who baptized, not Jesus himself – 3he left Judaea and went back to Galilee. 4This meant that he had to cross Samaria.
5On the way he came to the Samaritan town called Sychar, near the land that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. 6Jacob’s well is there and Jesus, tired by the journey, sat straight down by the well. It was about the sixth hour. 7When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. 9The Samaritan woman said to him, “What? You are a Jew and you ask me, a Samaritan, for a drink?”– Jews, in fact, do not associate with Samaritans.
10Jesus replied: “If you only knew what God is offering and who it is that is saying to you: Give me a drink, you would have been the one to ask, and he would have given you living water.”
11“You have no bucket, sir,” she answered, “and the well is deep: how could you get this living water? 12Are you a greater man than our father Jacob who gave us this well and drank from it himself with his sons and his cattle?”
13Jesus replied: “Whoever drinks this water will get thirsty again; 14but anyone who drinks the water that I shall give will never be thirsty again: the water that I shall give will turn into a spring inside him, welling up to eternal life.”
15 “Sir,” said the woman, “give me some of that water, so that I may never get thirsty and never have to come here again to draw water.”
16 “Go and call your husband,” said Jesus to her, “and come back here.”
17The woman answered, “I have no husband.”
He said to her, “You are right to say, ‘I have no husband’; 18for although you have had five, the one you have now is not your husband. You spoke the truth there.”
19 “I see you are a prophet, sir,” said the woman. 20 “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, while you say that Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.”
21Jesus said: “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know; for salvation comes from the Jews. 23But the hour will come – in fact it is here already – when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth: that is the kind of worshiper the Father wants. 24God is spirit, and those who worship must worship in spirit and truth.”
25The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah-that is, Christ-is coming; and when he comes he will tell us everything.”
26 “I who am speaking to you,” said Jesus, “I am he.”
27At this point his disciples returned, and were surprised to find him speaking to a woman, though none of them asked, “What do you want from her?” or, “Why are you talking to her?”
28The woman put down her water jar and hurried back to the town to tell the people, 29 “Come and see a man who has told me everything I ever did; I wonder if he is the Christ?” 30This brought people out of the town and they started walking toward him. 3
31Meanwhile, the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, do have something to eat”;
32but he said, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”
33So the disciples asked one another, “Has someone been bringing him food?”
34But Jesus said: “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me, and to complete his work. 35Have you not got a saying: Four months and then the harvest? Well, I tell you: Look around you, look at the fields; already they are white, ready for harvest! Already 36the reaper is being paid his wages, already he is bringing in the grain for eternal life, and thus sower and reaper rejoice together. 37For here the proverb holds good: one sows, another reaps; 38I sent you to reap a harvest you had not worked for. Others worked for it; and you have come into the rewards of their trouble.”
39Many Samaritans of that town had believed in him on the strength of the woman’s testimony when she said, “He told me all I have ever done”, 40so, when the Samaritans came up to him, they begged him to stay with them. He stayed for two days, and 41when he spoke to them many more came to believe;
42and they said to the woman, “Now we no longer believe because of what you told us; we have heard him ourselves and we know that he really is the saviour of the world.”
2. 1- Explanation
Significantly, Jesus’ conversation was not with a Samaritan man but with a Samaritan woman, thus giving women a value and esteem that were non-existent among the ancient peoples (for example, women were not allowed to act as witnesses.). This meeting resembles the meetings of the first Patriarchs with women: Isaac with Rebecca (24:64-7), Jacob with Rachel (Gen 29:10-12), and Moses with Zipporah (Ex 2:16-21). Furthermore, the conversion of many Samaritans at the end of the passage is almost like a new covenantal relationship, a marriage, between God and His people. The dialogue between a Jew and a Samaritan woman is most unusual, because of the long enmity between these two peoples from a historical perspective, as well as from the point of view of faith.
Historically, this conflict dates back to the death of King Solomon in 935 BC (as mentioned earlier in Chapter 14, on the good Samaritan), when the country was divided into Northern (Israel) and Southern (Judah or Judea) territories. After this separation of Judea and Israel in the ninth century, King Omri of the Northern Kingdom bought the hill of Samaria from Shemer (1 Kings 16:24). He built there the city of Samaria which became his capital and controlled the valley through which a main road ran between Jerusalem and Galilee, where Jesus meets the Samaritan woman. It is claimed that some Samaritans are still living today in the Holy Land.
From the point of view of faith, the Samaritans believed in the five books of the Torah only (and not the whole of the Old Testament). They believed in one God, in the Law and in the Ten Commandments. For them, Mount Garizim is the place chosen by God for their worship and offerings. They believed in Moses as the only prophet who must return and named him “The Repentant One” or the “One-who-will-return”.
Travel from Galilee in the North to the South (Judea) did not require crossing the mountains where bandits abounded. Pilgrims tended to use the easier path, close to the River Jordan. The Gospel passage mentions (verse 4) that Jesus had to go through Samaria, but this was not because of geographical constraints. Jesus was on a pastoral trip and wished to evangelize in Samaria. The Gospel passage is divided into two distinct parts:
- The conversation with the Samaritan woman about water (John 4:7-18)
The conversation with the Samaritan woman can be read on two levels: first, the human, material and natural exchange; second, the more important spiritual and divine exchange: the water needed to quench thirst in man is – for Jesus – the living water, that transforms those who drink it into living springs gushing out eternal water. What does water symbolize? Water, in the Bible, has many meanings: Water is a symbol of life and death, for it gives life to plants, animals and man, but kills when it overwhelms them. However, Jesus gives living water, which is – in nature – running clear water, stagnant water being devoid of life with all the filth and bacteria it contains. Living water is a symbol of many things: in the Bible, it symbolizes the Word and Teachings of God, the eternal wisdom of God and His Sacred Law. In the Gospel of John, living water is the symbol of the great gift of God – the Holy Spirit – after the Resurrection of Christ. In the life of the Church, it symbolizes the blessed water of baptism. Whoever accepts the Word of God is then transformed into a source that transmits this word in turn, a charismatic evangelist, bearer of the Good News of Christ, overflowing with graces in the Church, and sanctifying those who are around him. Any baptized person can, in fact, baptize in an emergency.
- Worship (John 4:19-24)
The Samaritan woman speaks of the place of worship on Mount Gerizim versus that in Jerusalem. Jesus speaks rather about the quality of worship: “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know; for salvation comes from the Jews. But the hour will come – in fact it is here already – when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth: that is the kind of worshiper the Father wants” (John 4:21-23). Jesus raises the level of conversation from the earthly, superficial, to a more important, spiritual level. For Christians, it is not the sacred place that heals, nor the shrine or church of a particular saint; Jesus speaks of adoration coming from the heart: it is not the place that heals, but the faith that comes from the heart. Hence, there is no obligation of pilgrimage for Christians. The interpretation of “worship in Spirit and truth” (v.23) lies in genuine worship of the Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit, on the foundation of the truth in Jesus. Irrespective of theological interpretations, Jesus seeks worship from the heart. The Christian religion is not a set of external rituals, though it still needs symbols and liturgy; what is important in Christianity is the heart, the inner depths of man.
2. 2- Summary and Practice
The Gospel of today exhorts us to seek living water in our life: Jesus Christ through his Word and Teachings, telling us that whoever drinks of this water shall never be thirsty again. Why draw from cracked cisterns which cannot quench our thirst? When we drink living water, we become a source of eternal life for others. Our life finds its meaning in being disciples of Jesus and bearing witness to him in our community. Let us worship God in Spirit and truth, as says the Gospel of today; there is no obligation to pilgrimage in Christianity: God is present everywhere and always; His presence is real and salutary in a lasting way.
3- Theological and Spiritual Teaching: The Action of the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is one of the important symbols of living water (John 4:7-18), God’s great gift to humanity. What is his role? Christians believe in the Trinity, One God in Three Persons. This does not mean that God is isolated or split, but that in His Unity He is three Persons, each having his own role and characteristics, each having a major impact in the history of our Salvation. The Holy Spirit is the Third Person, and his name was in the beginning linked to God’s action in Creation: “the Spirit of God hovered over the water.” His presence always indicated a new creation. Later, we see him hovering above Jesus’ head at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, symbol of a new creation of the world. We see him also at Pentecost, descending upon the disciples, confirming the mission of the Church. And we believe also in his outpouring upon believers, at the beginning of their Christian life, for each of us receives the Holy Spirit on the day of our Baptism and Confirmation.
Many images in the Bible help us to understand the role of the Holy Spirit, and his identity. The Holy Spirit is like the air that we breathe; like the wind that pushes us forward; like oil that strengthens wrestlers and runners. He is like fire that purifies and that warms those feeling cold; he is the dove descending from Heaven, and the water that God offers us, filling us like springs to quench the thirst of those around us.
Jesus was generous in sharing with his disciples this sublime gift. The Holy Spirit is the spirit of loving communion between the Father and the Son. When the Holy Spirit is poured into us, he gives us life from God and makes us the recipients of his sanctity. Despite his power, the Spirit does not compel us to accept him, but guides us to the best choice, in line with God’s will. The Spirit respects our freedom without oppressing it. On the contrary, he guides our freedom which, perhaps, might be unable to choose the good; he gives us the capacity, in delivering us from all the chains which might bind it, to choose what is best.
How does the Spirit free us from inside? The Spirit impels us to love and fills us with the necessary grace. The Spirit frees our hearts from selfishness, which is the door to sin and slavery. The Spirit urges us to make peace, through eliciting a desire for forgiveness and reconciliation. The Spirit sows in the depth of our hearts the good of the family to which we belong; he is the love between God the Father and the Son. The Spirit makes us cry out: “Abba! Father!”.
In his loving and merciful nature, he does not concentrate his action only in Christians, but he is present in every human being. Those who are open to his action, even without acknowledging it, are called by the Church “people of good will”. The Spirit does not belong to the Church and live according to her will; it is he who is the teacher, who guides her through his inspiration, so that she may remain, in the ocean of this world, the symbol of God’s love for all men.
4- Reading and Meditation: A Reading from St Gregory Nazianzus (c.330-390)
Diversity in the Holy Spirit
For if the Holy Spirit is not to be worshipped, how can he deify me by baptism? And if he is to be worshipped, surely he is an object of adoration – and if an object of adoration, he must be God. The one is linked to the other, a truly golden and saving chain.
He is called “the Spirit of God”, “the Spirit of Christ”, “the mind of Christ”, “the Spirit of the Lord”, and “the Lord” in his own right, “the Spirit of adoption”, “of truth”, “of freedom”; “the Spirit of wisdom”, “of understanding”, “of counsel”, “of might”, “of knowledge,” “of godliness”, “of the fear of God”. For he is the Maker of all these qualities, filling all with his essence, containing all things, filling the world in His essence, yet incapable of being comprehended in his power by the world; good, upright, governing; He sanctifies by nature and not by adoption.
He is not sanctified; he measures, he is not measured; he is shared in but does not share; he fills but is not filled; he contains and is not contained; he is received as an inheritance, glorified, reckoned with the Father and the Son.
He is held out as a threat. He is “the finger of God”; fire, like God – to manifest, as I take it, his oneness of being [with the Father and the Son]; – the Spirit who creates all things, who by baptism and by resurrection creates anew.
The Spirit who knows all things, who teaches, who blows wherever and to whatever extent he chooses. The Spirit who leads, speaks, sends forth, sets apart, is angry, is put to the test; who reveals, enlightens, gives life – or rather, who is Light itself and Life itself; – who makes us his temples – who deifies; who conducts us in the way of perfection, so that he precedes baptism and is to be sought after baptism; who does all that God does. He is divided into tongues of fire; he distributes spiritual gifts; making apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers.23