A Reflection on Jn 4:5-42
By Fr. Ric Chinchilla, CJM
This Sunday's gospel in chapter 4 of the gospel of John is a very long reading, full of spiritual images that could give us a full retreat time to meditate in its richness. If you have been stressing with all the coronavirus overload in the news, give yourself a chance to walk in the footsteps of the Samaritan woman.
I’ll take some (not all) points, your prayer afterward has to lead to peace and a deep witness of the living waters in you.
1. Geographically speaking, Jesus could've taken a different route to get to Galilee, but the gospel of John at the beginning of verse 4 points out that "He had to pass through Samaria."
This unavoidable route is related to other episodes in the gospels, for example, when Jesus was passing through Jericho, he told Zacchaeus: Today I "must" stay at your house (Lk 19:5). The use of the word "must" reveals this pressing love of Jesus to meet and heal those who are on the verge of losing all hope.
In this reading, he had to go through Samaria; for his benefit? Of course not; it is for the benefit of Samaria and all its inhabitants, starting with a lonely woman at the well.
2. The gospel seems to give us an insignificant detail when it tells us the time of day when this encounter happens: At Noon (The sixth hour), not the usual time to go to the well.
Protective walls surround some cities, the task of bringing water seem innocuous for us, but a harsh and necessary job in ancient times. Groups of people will march together for the daily task of collecting water to bring into the household, mostly in the morning; this method guarantees your safety.
You don't venture on your own, even though the text mentions the Samaritan woman came alone, which is a bit risky.
Jesus reveals later a very intimate detail of the woman: she's had five husbands, and presently is engaged in a new relationship.
Intimate because she is the only one who knows what happened during each relationship, she is the only one who knows how it feels to keep trying, to keep searching for stability, love, and care. She is the only one who knows her brokenness and the stress it brings to daily life.
She lives in an ancient village where, despite the absence of social media technology, surely everyone knows everything. Her life story precedes her, even if she would prefer to keep it private.
The morning chat on the way to collect water could become a painful daily reminder of her mistakes and her present situation.
The lonely but risky daily trip to collect water is far better away from small-town gossip. Journeying at noon under the scorching hot sun feels safer; only God knows her hurt, and actually, he knows! Which explains why Jesus had to pass by Samaria (Jn 4:4); he needed to see her!
3. Jesus asks her: Give me a drink of water.
Her response loudly speaks of her hurt; she tells him: How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?
She's found someone she can treat with disdain. Jesus is only a "Jew" for her.
Jesus, without any other introduction, will profit to teach her about God's love and the difference between "water" and "living water." He says: If you knew the gift of God, then you would've asked, and he would've given you living water.
Which in other words, says:
If you knew how loving and merciful God is, then you would've looked for love in him, and he would've loved you with an everlasting love.
She has been looking and asking for love in the wrong place, and she keeps coming back because she knows her heart is still empty, the water she drinks, the relantionships she has do not quench her deep thirst.
I quote Jeremiah the prophet, who proclaims: "My people have forsaken me, the source of living waters; They have dug themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that hold no water." (Jer 2:13)
Looking for meaning in meaningless places, it’s the road to nowhere.
4.- Now Jesus got her attention.
This "living water" is precisely what she has been longing in her life, and promptly asks him: "Lord, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water."
She started to confess her failings; she is not talking to "a Jew" anymore; she knows there is something deeper in him.
But, there is the danger that she might be looking only for a replacement of her last husband (longing), Jesus then makes her reflect without judgment about her past.
He then asks: "Go call your husband and come back."
She is not afraid of her mistakes anymore, and she confesses: "I do not have a husband."
This confession is a profound moment; nobody needs to tell her who she is or what she has done; no gossip is going to reveal the problem, but she is aware of it now and she has embraced her reality.
And she declares: "I can see that you are a prophet."
- In the beginning, Jesus was only a "Jew,"
- Then she called him "Lord" (Greek: κυριε),
- And now he is a prophet.
Which means she is allowing the grace to enlighten her.
5. The Messiah is coming.
Further in the text, the conversation sways from the temple to the coming of the Messiah.
verse 25 says:
The woman said to him,
"I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ;
when he comes, he will tell us everything."
Jesus said to her,
"I am he, the one speaking with you."
She is ready to hear this; her faith has grown exponentially.
After this revelation, the scene is interrupted by the arrival of the disciples.
6.- The woman leaves her jar.
The fact that she can leave her jar behind announces that she is ready to move on. Ready to be free and stop going back to past behaviors.
She was now free of old traps who kept her imprisoned; her empty jar is gone. In contrast, do we carry empty jars in our lives? What jar do we need to leave behind?
7. The Samaritan woman becomes a preacher.
After leaving her jar behind, she goes back to her hometown and tells everyone about the Messiah she has just found; she is not afraid to meet them and talk to the people of the village.
The fact that she can face the group of people which she was trying to avoid in the beginning shows that true healing is happening. She is still the Samaritan woman, she is the same physically, but an inner transformation has taken place.
Now people follow her to find and meet the Messiah.
and they say:
"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."
A true disciple allows the light of God to shine, doesn't steal the spotlight.
Always points to the Lord.
Thank God Jesus HAD to pass through Samaria.
During these coronavirus times, where panic is creating a lot of stress, and we might lose hope. We need to do whatever is necessary to protect the elderly and vulnerable, but remember, you cannot give what you don't have. Our fears need to be tamed by the peace of Christ (not denial, but trust that God is walking in and with us).
Have you ever asked the Lord to make you an instrument of his peace?
Well, this is the time, surprisingly, this is where things can change - just as it did for the Samaritan Woman. It was there outside the city in the heat of the day that Jesus was waiting for her.
In some places, Masses have been canceled, but Jesus is still waiting for you, don't miss your daily appointment, and please leave your jar behind (your fears and fear of not being able to control everything).
Peace be with you !