The theme of today’s Gospel from John is the water of life. In Judaism, the Scriptures were seen as a cleansing, life giving stream of water. John’s Gospel takes this idea and develops it further in the episode of the Samaritan woman by Jacob’s well. Jesus is the true water of life and he satisfies our thirst completely.
It is midday by Jacob’s well in Sychar, a Samaritan town, and Jesus is all by himself, his disciples having gone into the town to buy food. A woman comes to the well to draw water and Jesus asks her for a drink. A most interesting conversation now ensues, which moves at two levels: the woman fends off Jesus’s request for water at one level, and Jesus speaks of the water which he alone can give, the Spirit which quenches all our desires and fulfils them forever.
John often uses this technique, feeding a spiritual dimension into a mundane conversation. What the woman wants is a supply of ordinary water so that she wouldn’t need to come to the well every day. What the woman needs is the satisfaction of her deeper longings, which only comes through the gift of ‘living water’, the Spirit which Jesus pours upon all believers. “The Risen Lord,” said St Paul, “is a life giving Spirit.”
Step by step, Jesus leads this ordinary peasant woman to a recognition of who he really is and to an act of faith.
The woman realizes that this is no ordinary man talking to her. Perhaps he is a prophet. She indicates the neighboring hill, Gerizim, where the Samaritans had built a shrine which rivaled the Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus dismisses the religious rivalry between Jews and Samaritans. “God is Spirit,” he says, “and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” These two words connote a single idea, for in John’s Gospel ‘truth’ stands for God’s revelation itself. It is no wonder that Jesus concludes the conversation by revealing himself to her: “I, who speak to you now, am he, the Messiah.”
Once again, as so often in the Gospels, the revelation of God comes to the poor and humble, and – in this story – to a woman with a dubious past, one who belonged to a despised race. But not only is she privileged to receive this revelation of Jesus’s mission, she also turns out to be the first apostle. Later she will say to people, “come and meet the man who has told me everything I ever did. Could this be the messiah?”
Her townsfolk came and saw, and pressed Jesus to remain with them for some days, and many more became believers because of what they heard from his own lips.