3rd Sunday of Lent – 15th March 2020 – John 4,5-42
Samaritan woman: A channel for the living water
The much loved story of the Samaritan woman at the well is the second encounter with Jesus in the Gospel of John, which pours forth Jesus’ gift into the hearts of believers, both personally and communally. This encounter begins with social boundary-crossing of Jesus with a woman and a Samaritan, both disfavoured groups in His day, and culminates with the conversion of her village, that happened unpredictably. While she responded by evangelizing in Jesus name, the villagers proclaimed Him, as “the Saviour of the world.” Jesus’ time in Samaria closes with villagers believing in Jesus first upon the woman’s witness, then because of Jesus’ own word. John’s purpose of revealing “who Jesus is?” makes progression in the individual witness and punctuates with group believing that calls for personalized experience.
The encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman can be read in three movements. The first movement is all about water. Jesus’ thirst, then the ensuing conversation with the woman, a bit cautious of him and his boundary-crossing, and then the living water gushing up to eternal life that he will offer her and for which she will ask. The second movement is the conversation about the woman’s private life, which is the moment on which the encounter takes another turn. Jesus tells her everything she has ever done and she sees him differently as a prophet and clarifies with a serious of questions about worship. The third movement is the conversation about worship in Spirit and truth, which leads her to wonder about the Messiah and Jesus reveals to her that it is He.
The woman first comes to faith by her encounter with Jesus – not just an emotional encounter, but an intellectual one. The woman speaks specifically of the Messiah and Jesus responds with his first explicit acceptance of this title and self-identification with God the Father of both Jews and Samaritans. Jesus reply of “I am” (4,26) is the “I AM” of the sacred name of God revealed to Moses at the burning bush (Ex 3,14) and fulfills his promise of 4,10. In this context, Jesus presents himself as the fulfillment of covenant, worship, and messianic expectations of both Jews and Samaritans.
Jesus, who disclosed many secrets of her personal life, doesn’t address her by name, because He certainly treated her as a legitimate person. The woman’s sin, i.e., adultery and immorality, though apparent is not highlighted, because it is part of the story and not the central point in it. There is no mention of sin or sinfulness or forgiveness in this text and no word of judgment or even encouragement to change her life. Jesus’ sensitivity to her fragility manifests God’s great love that doesn’t condemn anyone. What is life-changing for the woman is that she has been entirely known to him, and this being known has enabled her to know Him. The story is about her being able to begin to see who Jesus is, and having been given the gift of that truth, which leads to real worship, she becomes a channel for the living water.
Although, she doesn’t express in words the acceptance of Jesus’ revelation, like many other disciples, she runs to share her experience with her own. Thus, she became an apostle to the villagers revealing the Good News of the one coming that she had just learned (4,28-30). Her friends and neighbours initially respond with curiosity, but that curiosity turns into affirmative faith and further requests him to stay on with His teaching for two days. The woman’s testimony is authenticated personally by the villagers and they gained much more from His teachings. Indeed, the woman’s testimony has brought a harvest to Jesus.