Tag Archives: Samaritan woman

Restoring the Samaritan woman to community

Many people in the world – mostly women – get up early and go to the community well or water spigot to gather water. I remember, when I spent several months in rural El Salvador, Esteban calling out very early, “Get up. It’s time to fetch water.”

Several months later, the community had a common spigot. I remember the first day that water came. People were lined up with their colorful water jugs, waiting in line, at the tap.

Fetching water is a communal event. The people, almost exclusively women, gather at the well or the community spigot in the cool of the morning to fetch water and to share the news (and the gossip) of the community.

Woman at the Well

in the Vatican Museum

And so in today’s Gospel (John 4) it is strange to find the Samaritan woman coming alone in the heat at noon. Something was wrong.

And then she encounters a solitary Jew.

Can you imagine her consternation when he addresses her and asks for water? The Jews despised and looked down on the Samaritans and considered themselves superior in many ways – not least of all in their religion. And he is a man and men do not talk in public to women.

Yet Jesus initiates contact with this woman who was probably alienated from her village. After all she had had five husbands. Perhaps she comes to the well alone and at noon to avoid the condemning looks and the remarks of the other women.

But a Jewish man does not command her to give him water but, as one in need, asks for a drink.

A spirited conversation follows and Jesus offers her living water.

How long had she come alone to fetch water? How long had she endured being marginalized? How long had she felt shame for her situation?

Perhaps she was tired of all this and when Jesus offers her living water, she realizes the deep thirst within her that cannot be sated by coming to the well or by her five former husbands or the man she’s now living with.

Jesus opens her up to her deepest thirst, her deepest desire.

The water Jesus gives her is different. It is the water that quenches our deepest desires, our deepest thirsts. But more than that, Jesus notes

the water I shall give will become in [the person] a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

It is not a water merely from the outside; it is a water that opens up a spring in our very hearts, where we can worship God in spirit and in truth.

And what does this water do for us? Note what this gift of water did for the woman.

She left behind her water jug and goes into town.

She leaves behind the sign of her lonely struggle to satisfy her own thirst on her own terms. She goes and tells the people about the Messiah she has experienced.

She is no longer isolated. She is an apostle, a missionary to her people. The one who had been an outcast becomes the one who brings news of great joy.

And then she returns to the well – not alone but with the people of the village.

A stream of living water is flowing out of her, watering her neighbors who no longer look on her as an outcast, but join her in going out to meet this Jesus, who satisfies our thirsts.

And when they encounter Jesus, they too have their thirsts satisfied and find in themselves springs of that living water.

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.

May we recognize our thirsts and our ways of trying to satisfy them. Even more let us open our thirst to receive the living water, and let that Living Water of Jesus flood our hearts so that we too may find in ourselves “the spring of living water that wells up to eternal life” and share it with all who thirst for real Water.

Thirst and our real needs

 “Christ asks for water and promises water.
He is in need and wants to receive;
he is rich and wants to slake the thirst of others.”
St. Augustine, Commentary on John

In today’s Gospel, John 4: 5-42, we find Jesus in need. He’s tired and thirsty, seated at Jacob’s well, in the heat of the noonday sun.

Icon, Vatican Museum

Icon, Vatican Museum

A woman, triply marginalized, approaches. But she has a water jar – and the capacity to help Jesus satisfy his physical thirst.

She is a woman and a Jewish teacher wouldn’t be seen speaking publicly with a woman who is not family.

She is also a Samaritan – a “heretic” according to the Jews. As she says, “Jews have nothing to do with Samaritans.”

She is also probably an outcast in her village. She doesn’t come for water when the other women do, in the cool of the morning. She arrives in the noonday heat, perhaps to avoid the looks or the gossip of the other women, who perhaps fear she’ll take their husbands. “After all, she has had five men!”

But she asks the woman for help: “Will you give me a drink?”

She objects, emphasizing the gap between them.

But Jesus sees her thirst, her desire for something different, and he offers her living water.

Perhaps tired of coming every day at noon for water she asks Jesus for this living water.

But Jesus asks her to call her husband and reveals that in her thirst, her desire for life, she has had five men.

Unsatisfied, she has sought to quench her thirst for life in five different men and, in the words of U-2, she still hadn’t found what she was looking for.

Jesus has awakened that desire in her. He has called her to see the deepest desires of her heart. And he reveals himself to her as the long-awaited Messiah.

Jesus asks us for a drink, to share what we have with him. And he wants to awaken in us the deepest desires and thirsts of our heart.

He sees her as a person who can do something with him. (In fact, she ends up evangelizing her town.)

We have something that Jesus can use. He asks our help – and in the process, he helps us discover our real need and find it in letting ourselves be loved by Him.