First Reading Exodus 17:3–7
Psalm Psalm 95:1–2, 6–9
Second Reading Romans 5:1–2, 5–8
Gospel John 4:5-42
Gospel – John 4:5-42
Jesus came to the Samaritan town called Sychar, near the land that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well is there and Jesus, tired by the journey, sat straight down by the well. It was about the sixth hour. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink.’ His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. The 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. Jesus 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.’
‘You have no bucket, sir,’ she answered ‘and the well is deep: how could you get this living water? Are you a greater man than our father Jacob who gave us this well and drank from it himself with his sons and his cattle?’ Jesus replied:
‘Whoever drinks this water
will get thirsty again;
but 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.’
‘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.’ ‘Go and call your husband’ said Jesus to her ‘and come back here.’ The woman answered, ‘I have no husband.’ He said to her, ‘You are right to say, “I have no husband”; for although you have had five, the one you have now is not your husband. You spoke the truth there.’ ‘I see you are a prophet, sir’ said the woman. ‘Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, while you say that Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.’ Jesus said:
‘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 worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth:
that is the kind of worshipper the Father wants.
God is spirit,
and those who worship
must worship in spirit and truth.’
The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah – that is, Christ – is coming; and when he comes he will tell us everything.’ ‘I who am speaking to you,’ said Jesus ‘I am he.’
At 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?’ The woman put down her water jar and hurried back to the town to tell the people. ‘Come and see a man who has told me everything I ever did; I wonder if he is the Christ?’ This brought people out of the town and they started walking towards him.
Meanwhile, the disciples were urging him, ‘Rabbi, do have something to eat; but he said, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ So the disciples asked one another, ‘Has someone been bringing him food?’ But Jesus said:
‘My food is to do the will of the one who sent me,
and to complete his work.
Have 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 the reaper is being paid his wages,
already he is bringing in the grain for eternal life,
and thus sower and reaper rejoice together.
For here the proverb holds good:
one sows, another reaps;
I 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.’
Many 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’, so, when the Samaritans came up to him, they begged him to stay with them. He stayed for two days, and when he spoke to them many more came to believe; and 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.’
Hearing the Word
Todays’ readings feature deeply symbolic images of thirst and water which draw attention to what is absolutely necessary for life that extends beyond bodily existence.
During the Exodus, Moses and the Israelites, fleeing from Egyptian slavery, experienced an unexpected rescue from the pharaoh’s hand, when Moses, upon God’s command, parted the waters of the Red Sea (cf. Exod 14:13-31) and the people passed through the midst of the sea. In some way, this event echoes the account of creation when God divided the waters (cf. Gen 1:7) to create dry land so that life could begin. In response, the Israelites sang songs of victory and praise to their God and Savior. But just after experiencing God’s saving power, the Israelites found themselves in the wilderness, facing the challenge of the desert journey. Lack of water put their lives in danger; they felt overwhelming thirst. Since life cannot continue without water and they saw no immediate remedy for their thirst, they began to “grumble against Moses” whom they accused of leading them into a trap, and inevitable death. Thirst and fear robbed them of confidence and trust in the saving presence of the Lord, despite the fact that they had just seen that saving power leading them through dangerous waters. The Israelites lacked not only water but, above all, lacked faith in God who accompanied them. The biblical author concluded by naming the place where all this happened: Massah, which in Hebrew means “to test”, and Meribah which means “to quarrel.” The Israelites, driven by physical thirst, “quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
One of the key themes in Paul’s letter to the Romans is “justification”, which is better understood if it is translated as “righteousness”. It is a complex concept that describes the relationship and interaction between the human being and God. In the opening verses of today’s New Testament reading Paul refers to righteousness as simply having “peace with God”. This state of peace and grace was lost by the first man, Adam. After him, all of humanity became “unrighteous”, without grace and immortality. But in Christ, the new Adam, “we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand”. Paul stresses the gratuity of this gift of grace. Without any merit on the part of human beings, grace and righteousness came through Christ’s death. Christ died “while we were still sinners”. Paul emphasizes that “rarely will anyone die for a righteous person.” Christ, by dying for sinners showed that God’s grace is not achieved through the pursuit of perfection, but is a gift. The only response necessary to receive it, is faith in Jesus Christ.
In his complex explanation Paul also indirectly refers to the theme of thirst. He speaks about “God’s love having been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Without the gift of the Spirit a person lacks the grace of righteousness; he or she is “an empty vessel” and someone thirsty for God and his grace. This thirst, this void, can only be satisfied and filled by Christ, who raises a person to the state of grace – that state of dignity for which God originally created humanity. Receiving Christ through faith satisfies the inner thirst for God.
Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman took place near the town Sychar located in the region of Samaria. Despite many differences, the Samaritans had much in common with the Jews. They also believed in one God, and waited for the Messiah. Yet, in the course of their long and complex history, these two peoples had become sworn enemies, to the point of avoiding any contact with one another. Remarkably, Jesus approached a Samaritan woman with a request for a drink. In doing this he crossed and violated many boundaries: the barrier of religious separation, which was strictly observed, and the gender divide which forbade men to associate with women in public. He crossed those barriers and divisions, with a simple petition, “Give me a drink”.
The story shows that Jesus’ thirst was not physical. On the cross he cried “I thirst” but his real thirst was to fulfill the Scripture by his death (cf. John 19:28). Also, his thirst in today’s story was not for water but for the woman’s faith. The dialogue between the two took place on two levels. Jesus, who initially asked for water, became the one to offer water. Water, the main subject of the conversation, initially meant natural water, a liquid, which, drawn from the well or a spring was called the “living water”. However, water quickly came to have spiritual meaning as Jesus spoke of the water that satisfies thirst forever, and is the source of eternal life. This water is the right relationship to God expressed through worship in “spirit and truth” as taught by Jesus the Messiah.
The Samaritan woman recognized that and, in her petition “Sir, give me this water”, led Jesus to offer her himself as the one who can quench the human thirst for God permanently. The woman also correctly identified Jesus as “the Messiah” who would “tell us everything”. These words mean that she came to believe in Jesus as God’s true representative who would satisfy the human thirst for knowing and approaching God. Moreover, her testimony to her fellow Samaritans led them to have their own thirst satisfied because they came to believe in Jesus. The Samaritans’ thirst for God was satisfied through accepting Jesus as the one who is the Messiah and “truly the Savior of the world”.
Today’s Liturgy of the Word hints at the thirst for God, and longing for life, that is written in every human heart. The Israelites in the wilderness, felt physical thirst which, unfortunately, led them away from God as they became concerned about preserving their bodily life. Paul knew about the human thirst for God and life, and taught that it can be satisfied through the Holy Spirit filling believers’ hearts with divine love. Ultimately, the deepest human thirst for life can only be quenched by Jesus, who himself is “the spring of water gushing up to eternal life”. He is the Messiah who came to teach about God’s ways, and thus satisfy the human thirst for knowing God. Those who come to Jesus and have their thirst thus quenched will have no difficulty singing joyfully with the Psalmist who called upon the Israelites to “sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!”
Listening to the Word of God
One of the basic things that archaeologists look out for when they set out to study places where human beings have lived, is the availability of water. This is because water is an essential for life that informs the decision of settlers in their choice of a particular locality. Indeed, the search for water is a relentless one. In some parts of the world, particularly in rural areas, people, usually women, have to walk long distances in search of water, and to carry it in pots or buckets on their heads. Indeed, water is life and where there is no water death rules.
Against this backdrop, one can appreciate the cry of the Israelites in the first reading. As slaves in Egypt, they did not lack water. Ironically, after crossing the waters of the Red Sea, they now stood in need of water. They could not wait for water, and cried out to Moses in desperation. Their cry for water in itself was not wrong. After all, who else could they cry out to in their need? However, their expressed inability to have confidence in the Lord in the face of this crises, became the major obstacle in their faith journey.
The physical thirst of the Israelites can be transposed onto the spiritual plane where billions of human beings are in search of something that would quench their deepest spiritual thirst. Unfortunately, in this search, some have abandoned Jesus, the Rock who provides living water, and dug for themselves “bore-holes” that hold no water. In the process, some have fallen victim to fraudsters. False prophets, who claim to have solutions to every problem, have capitalised on this quest, and built what look like churches from the outside, but, in reality, are shrines for milking unsuspecting victims.
In the Gospel story, Jesus offers himself as the water that can quench that deep thirst in every one of us. The Samaritan woman at the well with her jar, is descriptive of each one of us in diverse ways. She went in search of that which can quench her thirst and she found in Jesus the water that truly satisfies.
There is a proverb which says, “it is the water that loves you, that goes into your pot”. Beyond the images of physical water and the jar in the encounter between the Samaritan woman and Jesus, is something that happens in any true encounter with the Lord. Paul described this dynamic as God’s love being poured into believers’ hearts by the Holy Spirit. In Jesus, God pours his love into hearts that are thirsty and willing to be refreshed.
Perhaps, at this point in time in your life, you feel very dry inside. Maybe the jar of your heart is even broken and unable to hold any water. Jesus walks to each one of us today and says, “give me water”. He asks this because he thirsts for our faith in him. Faith heals broken hearts and makes water gush out of the Rock to fill, refresh and revive them.
What do I thirst for most? Where can I find “water” to satisfy that thirst?
Am I experiencing emptiness and desolation in my journey of faith? What do I need to satisfy my spiritual thirst?
Response to God
In the face of a challenge, one can choose to give up faith or hold on to faith. I choose to hold on to faith and to renew my commitment to God by spending more time in prayer and meditation on His Word.
Response to your World
I will identify one spiritual practice that can help me satisfy my own spiritual thirst for God and practice it faithfully throughout this week.
There are many people out there who want to give up on life. As a group, what steps can we take to search for such persons and, like the Samaritan woman, share with them our personal stories and experiences of Jesus Christ and thereby lead them to a renewed faith?
Lord Jesus, you are the giver of living water. You alone can satisfy my deepest need. I turn to you this day and humbly ask you to fill my heart with heavenly love. Amen.