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3rd SUNDAY OF LENT (Cycle A)

Readings:
Exodus 17:3-7
Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9
Romans 5:1-2, 5-8
John 4:5-42

Abbreviations: NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

The two Testaments reveal God's divine plan for humanity, and that is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095). 

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: Do not test God who is the Source of Life
Today's readings use the symbolism of water. Living things cannot survive without water; water is absolutely necessary for life. For the Israelites who lived in a land surrounded by deserts, this symbolism was especially significant. However, our Biblical readings tell us there is more to life than having water to drink.

In the First Reading, we recall the Israelites exodus out of Egypt. God's miracles liberated them from slavery, and they made the journey out of Egypt under God's divine protection. However, that journey of liberation was continually marred by Israelites complaints. They did not trust in God to provide for them, and they made demonstrations of unfaithfulness to test God, even when He miraculously provided water flowing from a rock to save their lives at Horeb.

The Responsorial Psalm reminds us that God is faithful. He spiritually nourishes and guides His people on their journey through life like a good shepherd cares for his sheep. In the psalm, the voice of Yahweh speaks to us "today," warning us to be sincere in our trust and worship. We must avoid being like the people of the Exodus generation who tested God and rebelled against His divine plan on the wilderness journey out of Egypt.

In the Second Reading, St. Paul writes about the life-giving love of God "poured out into our hearts." He ties that visual image to Jesus who was struck on the Cross when the "living waters" of baptism and the Eucharist poured out from Christ for the salvation of humanity (Jn 19:34-37). Paul speaks of this event as the proof of God's love in that "while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." God in His infinite love takes the necessary action to bring about man's salvation, and it is the Son's self-sacrificial death that is the mode in which God's love is manifested to humanity (see 1 John 2:1-2; 3:16a).

Our Gospel Reading recalls Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well. Jesus offers the woman "living water" that, He tells her, leads to eternal life. In our Eucharistic celebration, Jesus is the "living water" in our midst as He was at the Rock of Horeb and at the well of Jacob. He calls us to believe "I am He," as he told the woman of Samaria with the promise that He will pour out the love of God into our hearts through the Holy Spirit "today," "the day of our salvation" if only we will believe. It is Jesus who is our source of life; He is the "living water" welling up for eternal life.

We are called to accept God's gift of eternal salvation through the Cross of Jesus Christ with gratitude and the obedience of faith in Christ and His Church. The Israelites of the Exodus generation forfeited their happiness when they lost the blessing of living in the Promised Land of Canaan because of their continual rebellious testing of God's goodness. Let their failure be a warning. Do not test God by being rebellious or contentious and forfeit your eternal happiness in the Promised Land of Heaven.

The First Reading Exodus 17:3-7 ~ Israel Tests God in the Desert
3 In those days, in their thirst for water, the people grumbled against Moses, saying, "Why did you ever make us leave Egypt?  Was it just to have us die here of thirst with our children and our livestock?"  4 So Moses cried out to the LORD, "What shall I do with this people?  A little more and they will stone me!"  5 The LORD answered Moses, "Go over there in front of [ahead of] the people along with some of the elders of Israel, holding in your hand, as you do, the staff with which you struck the river. 6 I will be standing there in front of you on the rock in Horeb.  Strike the rock, and the water will flow from it for the people to drink."  This Moses did, in the presence of the elders of Israel.  7 The place was called Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled there and tested the LORD, saying, "Is the LORD in our midst or not?"

During the journey out of Egypt to Mt. Sinai, the two years at Sinai where the Israelites received the Law and the Tabernacle, and then the thirty-eighty years of wilderness wandering, God contiually provided for the Israelites.  However, the Israelites marred those years under God's divine protection by their lack of trust in God to provide for them, and demonstrations of unfaithfulness. They complained to Moses about their thirst (Exodus 15:24; 17:3 and Num 20:2), they complained about their hunger (Ex 16:2-3; Num 11:4ff), and they complained about the dangers of war (Ex 14:10-12 and Num 14:2).  The first generation of Israelites to witness God's mighty works was so willful that they threaten to return to Egypt and to reject the promises of God made to the Patriarch Abraham (Ps 78:13-44; 106:6-22).

When the people threatened Moses and accused God of wanting to cause their children and livestock to die of thirst on the journey to Mt. Sinai (verse 3), Yahweh told Moses to take some of the elders of Israel with him and to go ahead of the people to Mt. Sinai/Horeb.  God told Moses He would be waiting at Sinai on the rock.  Moses was to strike the rock and water would flow out of the rock for the people.  It was significant that God was on the rock and Moses was instructed to strike the rock upon which God stood.  God was struck to produce the waters of life for the people, and when the people arrived at Mt. Sinai, the water was there waiting for them. 

In 1 Corinthians 10:1-4, St. Paul identified the Rock as Christ: I want you to be quite certain, brothers, that our ancestors all had the cloud over them and all passed through the sea.  In the cloud and in the sea they were all baptized into Moses; all ate the same spiritual food and all drank the same spiritual drink, since they drank from the spiritual rock which followed them, and that rock was Christ (1 Cor 10:1-4).  The Fathers of the Church like St. Caesarius of Arles wrote that the rock that was struck to bring forth life-giving waters was an allegory of the Passion of Christ and His work of redemption: "Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Take the staff and strike the rock, that it may produce water for the people.'  Behold, there is a rock, and it contains water.  However, unless this rock is struck, it does not have any water at all.  Then when it has been struck, it produces fountains and rivers, as we read in the Gospel: 'He who believes in me, from within him there shall flow rivers of living water.'  When Christ was struck on the cross, he brought forth the fountains of the New Testament.  Therefore it was necessary for him to be pierced.  If he had not been struck, so that water and blood flowed from his side, the whole world would have perished through suffering thirst for the word of God" (St. Caesarius of Arles, Sermon 103.3, quoting Jn 7:38).

Just as the manna continued to satisfy their hunger and give nourishment to the Israelites on their journey, the rock that gave life-giving water now followed them on their forty year journey (1 Cor 10:4).  The miracle of "water from the rock" was repeated at Kadesh in Numbers 20:1-11.  At Kadesh the people banded together against Moses and blamed him for their sufferings, complaining again that Moses had purposely brought them out into the desert to die of thirst.  Moses and Aaron appealed to God and Yahweh instructed Moses: Take the staff and assemble the community, you and your brother Aaron, and in their presence order the rock to yield its waters.  From the rock you shall bring forth water for the community and their livestock to drink (Num 20:8-11).  The first time Moses was instructed to strike the rock in the presence of some of the elders in Exodus 17. The second time Moses and Aaron were told to call together the assembly of the Old Covenant Church and in their presence Moses was instructed to speak to the rock to bring forth the water.

The Fathers of the Church saw this event as prefiguring the Passion of the Christ.  Christ was struck down once and for all time for the sins of man, just as God upon the rock was struck once in Exodus 17:6.  From that one time Christ was struck until the end of time, the gift of baptism through water and the Spirit and the gift of the bread of life of Christ in the Eucharist is given to the assembly when God's representative speaks to the Rock who is Christ and Christ, the "Living Water," becomes present on the altar, giving spiritual life to all who come to Him.

Miracle of Water from the Rock at Sinai/Horeb (Ex 17:1-7) Christ's Crucifixion at Golgotha
(Mt 27:4-42, 57, 66-67; Jn 19:17-18, 34)
Moses was instructed to take some of the elders of Israel as witnesses (17:5). Some of the elders of Israel witnessed Jesus' crucifixion (Mt 27:41-42).
God was on the rock (17:6). Jesus is the Rock (1 Cor 10:4).
Moses and Aaron (the High Priest) were God's representatives (Ex 3:10; 4:14-16). The elders of the Sanhedrin and Caiaphas the High Priest, who served the people as God's representatives, condemned Jesus to death (Mt 26:57, 66).
Moses was commanded to strike the rock with his staff (17:5). Jesus, the Rock, was struck: beaten, crucified & speared in His chest (Mt 26:67; Jn 19:17-18, 34).

When Moses struck the rock, the people received the gift of life-giving water (17:6).

Jesus died on the Cross.  When the soldier struck Him with the spear, blood and water flowed from His side (Jn 19:34); these are the gifts of baptism and the Eucharist.

M. Hunt © copyright 2009

Exodus 17:7 ~ The place was called Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled there and tested the LORD, saying, "Is the LORD in our midst or not?"
Since the people were contentious and put God to the test by asking if God was indeed with them, Moses re-named site of their unfaithfulness Massah, "testing" and Meribah, "contention" (Ex 17:7; Dt 6:16; 9:22; 33:8).  It wasn't just a complaint that the Israelites made to Moses; the Israelites put their complaint in the form of a challenge to test God's willingness to provide for them (see CCC 2119).  It is the sin of rebellion to test or challenge God who is the source of life.

Responsorial Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9 ~ Follow the Voice of the Lord
The response is: "If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts."

1 Come, let us sing joyfully to the LORD; let us acclaim the Rock of our salvation.  2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us joyfully sing psalms to him.
Response:
6 Come, let us bow down in worship; let us kneel before the LORD who made us.  7 For he is our God, and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides.'
Response:
7b Oh, that today you would hear his voice: 8 "Harden not your hearts as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the desert, 9 where your fathers tempted me; they tested me though they had seen my works."
Response:

The psalmist begins with an invitation for the people to praise Yahweh (verses 1-2), the King of the universe who is our God.  In verses 6-7, he also offers an invitation to worship the Lord because He is the faithful God of His people who nourishes and guides His people like a good shepherd cares for his sheep.  The voice of Yahweh follows the invitation, speaking to His people "today." He warns them to be sincere in their trust and worship and to not be like the people of the Exodus generation who tested God and rebelled against His divine plan on the wilderness journey out of Egypt.

Christians reading this psalm should take it as a warning to avoid the repetition of Israel's rebellion in the wilderness (Ps 78; Ex 17:17) so that what happened to that generation will not happen to those who praise the Lord today (verse 10; Num 14:30, 34).  Tempting God or challenging Him to prove His goodness and fidelity, as though His past works are not enough, is an act of disloyalty.  The Letter to the Hebrews offers a commentary on these verses and presents them as spoken by the Holy Spirit (see Ps 95:8-11 in Heb 3:6-11).  The Israelites of the Exodus generation who tested God did not enter into the Promised Land and died in the wilderness (Num 14:20-33).  That God continues to warn us about the same judgment for those who will not enter His "rest" means God is referring not to the Promised Land as in the case of the Exodus generation but to the eternal rest He has promised his faithful in the true Promised Land of Heaven (Mt 11:28-29).  Let those of us who hear His warning make every effort to remain faithful so that we do not follow the bad example of the ungrateful and disloyal Exodus generation (Heb 3:6-11; 4:8-11).  

The Second Reading Romans 5:1-2, 5-8 ~ Proof of God's love for Us
1 Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in hope of the glory of God.  [...] 5 And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.  6 For Christ, while we were still helpless, died at the appointed time for the ungodly.  7 Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die.  8 But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.

According to St. Paul, the first effect of justification (being made "right" with God) is that the believer experiences peace.  Paul is not using the word "peace" in the sense of "peace of mind" or in the sense of "peace" as a result of the absence of conflict. He uses the Greek word eirene in the same sense as the Hebrew word shalom, meaning the fullness of a right relationship.  In this case, it is peace with God that is our justification, establishing a right relationship with Yahweh through the New Covenant in the blood of Jesus the Messiah. 

2 through whom we have gained access by faith to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in hope of the glory of God. 
When human beings enter into a correct relationship with God through the new and everlasting covenant in the blood of Christ, they are no longer under the penalty of God's wrath as a child of Adam.  Instead, as adopted sons and daughters, they are at peace because they are reborn into God's family where the perfect sacrifice of Christ has removed all God's wrath.  This reconciliation is a gift of God's grace, and the result is the inner peace that comes from a unity in the life of the Most Holy Trinity. 

5 And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. 

This line evokes the powerful visual image of the life-giving water being poured out upon the people to quench their thirst in the Exodus miracle, but also the image of:

This visual image also looks forward to the eschatological event of the outpouring of the Spirit prophesied in Ezekiel 47:1-12 and the vision of St. John in Revelation 22:1-5.  It is a vision that St. John receives years after St. Paul's letter to Rome.  Paul's point is to remind the Roman Christians that the pouring out of God the Holy Spirit is a manifestation which is distinctive to the New Covenant Church and not part of the Old.  He is the Spirit who dwells in the circumcised heart of the New Covenant believer from the moment of the infusion of God's sanctifying grace in the Sacrament of Baptism which makes the believer a true child of God (see Jn 15:26; 16:5-15; Rom 8:8-11; 14-16; 1 Cor 3:16; 2 Tim 1:14). 

5 For Christ, while we were still helpless, died at the appointed time for the ungodly.
Jesus' "hour" is the appointed time to which St. Paul refers.  It is the hour when the Rock of our salvation was struck on the Cross.  As He was struck, living waters flowed out from Christ our Rock (see Jn 19:34-37).  In Romans 5:6-8, Paul speaks of this event as the proof of God's love.  The proof is that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Paul identifies the condition of the unjustified person as one incapable of doing anything on his own to achieve righteousness in the sight of God apart from Jesus Christ.  God in His infinite love does for us what we could not do for ourselves.  It is God who takes the necessary action to bring about the gift of eternal salvation, and it is the Son's self-sacrificial death that is the mode in which God's love has been manifested to humanity (see 1 John 2:1-2; 3:16a).

The Gospel of John 4:5-42 or 4:5-15, 19b-26, 39a, 40-42 ~ The Water Welling Up for Eternal Life
5 Jesus came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.  Jacob's well was there.  Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well.  It was about noon [the sixth hour].  7 A woman of Samaria came to draw water.  Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink."  8 His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.  9 The Samaritan woman said to him, "How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?" for Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.  10 Jesus answered and said to her, "If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him and he would have given you living water."  11 The woman said to him, "Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where then can you get this living water?  12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?"  13 Jesus answered and said to her, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; 14 but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."  15 The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water." 
16 Jesus said to her, "Go call your husband and come back."  17 The woman answered and said to him, "I do not have a husband."  Jesus answered her, "You are right in saying, 'I do not have a husband.'  18 For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.  What you have said is true." 19 The woman said to him, "Sir, I can see that you are a prophet.  20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem."  21 Jesus said to her, "Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.  22 You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews.  23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him.  24 God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth."  25 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."  26 Jesus said to her, "I am he, the one speaking with you."
27 At that moment his disciples returned, and were amazed that he was talking with a woman, but still no one said, "What are you looking for?" or "Why are you talking with her?"  28 The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, 29 "Come see a man who told me everything I have done.  Could he possibly be the Christ?"  30 They went out of the town and came to him.  31 Meanwhile, the disciples urged him, "Rabbi, eat."  32 But he said to them, "I have food to eat of which you do not know."  33 So the disciples said to one another, "Could someone have brought him something to eat?"  34 Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work.  35 Do you not say, 'In four months the harvest will be here'?  I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest.  36 The reaper is already receiving payment and gathering crops for eternal life, so that the sower and reaper can rejoice together.  37 For here the saying is verified that 'One sows and another reaps.'  38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the work, and you are sharing the fruits of their work." 39 Many Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman who testified, "He told me everything I have done."  40 When the Samaritans came to him, they invited him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days.  41 Many more began to believe in him because of his word, 42 and they said to the woman, "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."
[...] = literal Greek translation, IBGE, vol. IV, page 256-259.

5 Jesus came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 
The place called Sychar is probably the Greek corruption of the name of the ancient city of Shechem.  The site of Shechem fits perfectly both theological and geographically in the encounter between Jesus and the people of Samaria.  Shechem/Sychar is located at the entrance to the mountain pass that is traversed by the road from Jerusalem to the North.  A city had existed at the site since the beginning of the 3rd millennium BC, and Egyptian diplomatic correspondence that dates to the 19th-18th centuries BC mentions Shechem

Shechem played an important role in the Salvation History of the Old Testament and it is a role that impacts this encounter with Christ:   

Genesis 12:7 Yahweh promised the land of Canaan to Abram his descendants.  Abram built his first altar to Yahweh at Shechem.  The promise of the land is the first of 3 promises to Abram that will become the Abrahamic Covenant.
Genesis 33:18-20 Jacob camped opposite the town upon his return from Paddan-Aram.  He purchased land from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem and built an altar.  The city is named for the Gentile prince who loved Dinah, the daughter Jacob/Israel, and wanted to marry her.
Genesis 34 Shechem is the site of a failed covenant, a failed marriage, and a terrible injustice when the Gentile community of Shechem, whose men submitted to circumcision to join in covenant with Jacob's family, was murdered by men under the command of three sons of Jacob/Israel.
Deuteronomy 27:4, 11-12 It is near the site designated by Moses (between Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim) for the Israelite's oath renewal of the covenant with Yahweh when the Israelites took possession of the Promised Land.
Joshua 8:30-35 When Joshua and the Israelites began the conquest of Canaan, the covenant renewal ceremony and the blessing of the people ordered by Moses in Deuteronomy 27 took place near Shechem.
Joshua 24 Joshua called a great assembly of all the tribes of Israel at Shechem for a reaffirmation of the Sinai Covenant at the end of the first phase of the conquest just prior to his death.
Judges 8:29-9:21 The people of Shechem decided to follow a false king of Israel who betrayed them.
1Kings 12:1-25 Great Assembly of the 12 tribes to proclaim Rehoboam, son of Solomon, king of Israel took place at Shechem; it was the beginning of the end of Israel as a united kingdom. After the civil war that divided the nation of Israel into the Southern Kingdom of Judah and the Northern Kingdom of Israel, King Jeroboam of the Northern Kingdom made Shechem his capital.
Hosea 6:7-9 Sinful priests commit murder on the road to Shechem = broken covenant.
Jeremiah 41:1-10 The murder of the men from Shechem and Samaria who had come in peace to mourn the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem and to bring offerings.

The re-occurring themes associated with Shechem are covenant, failed covenant, failed marriage, murder/terrible wrongs, betrayal, and lost opportunity to witness to the Gentile people of the One True God.  Jesus, the true King of Israel and descendant of King David, will undo all these centuries of wrongs and abuses as He calls Samaria (Northern Israel) back to true worship in covenant with God.  He has come to save that which was lost.  He is the bridegroom who loves this "daughter of Jacob/Israel."

Jacob's well was there.  Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well. It was about noon [the sixth hour].  7 A woman of Samaria came to draw water. 
St. John includes the information that Jesus was tired because he wants to remind the reader that Jesus was fully divine and fully human.  Like us He suffered from hunger and thirst and felt fatigue, but despite His tiredness Jesus, the good Shepherd, does not waste the opportunity to reach out to the lost sheep.

It was about the sixth hour [Greek literal translation]This number may be literal or it may be symbolic.  Six is the number of man/humanity.  Man and woman were both created on the sixth day.  Six is also the symbolic number of man in rebellion, and the Northern Kingdom of Israel had been estranged from God, in violation of the Covenant of Sinai, since the 10th century BC.  However, if the time is literal, then the question arises is John using Jewish or Roman time?  If it were Jewish time, the time would be 12 noon.  If the time is Roman time it is 6 AM (we keep Roman time).  The normal times when the women came to the village well were at the beginning and at the end of the day.  It is another indication that St. John is using Roman time in his Gospel and not Jewish time as the inspired writers of the other Gospels.  Why would St. John, writing his account late in the century to a mostly Gentile Christian Church from his diocese of Ephesus, the third most important city in the Roman Empire, use Hebrew time and not Roman time?

The place of their meeting has theological significance.  Although wells figure prominently in the Old Testament, this particular "well of Jacob" is not mentioned in the Old Testament.  The site of Jacob's well is located at the foot of Mt. Gerizim in the West Bank, 40 miles north of Jerusalem and 1 mile east of the modern Palestinian city of Nablus.  It has been a site of religious pilgrimage since the 4th century AD.  It is a reoccurring theme in the Old Testament that a future bride is courted at a well:

Genesis 24:10-67 Abraham's servant met Rebecca, seeking a bride for Abraham's son Isaac.
Genesis 29:1-30 Jacob/Israel met Rachel, his future bride, at a well.
Exodus 2:15-21 Moses met Zipporah, his future bride, at a well.

It is also an ancient Christian tradition that the Holy Spirit came to Mary at the well in Nazareth for the Annunciation of the Christ.  In our story, Jesus, the divine Bridegroom has come to court His Covenant Bride, Israel (Samaria) as symbolized by this woman and as promised by the prophets of God (cf. Hosea chapter 2).  John the Baptist's last testimony of Christ as the "Bridegroom" in John 3:29 prepares us for the symbolic importance of this encounter.

The entire narrative can be divided into three scenes.  Jesus will make seven statements to the woman of Samaria.  Scene I is divided in 2 different parts and each part has two short dialogues with three exchanges.  In Scene II part 1, Jesus makes His seventh statement, affirming His true identity and in part 2, when the disciples return, He completes His teaching.  In Scene III the woman returns with the people of her community.
Scene I, Part 1: Introduces the topic of "living water" and Jesus' claim to be the Messiah.

Jesus' seven statements to the Samaritan woman will be in bold print in the following Scripture quotations.  The number seven is a significant number in Scripture, symbolizing fullness and completion.  It is also the number of the Holy Spirit.  From the Cross, Jesus will also make seven statements in the combined Gospels.

7 A woman of Samaria came to draw water.  Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink."  8 His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.  9 The Samaritan woman said to him, "How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?" for Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.  Verse 7 is Jesus' 1st statement.
That Jesus' disciples went into town to buy food may suggest that this is the start of of their traveling day.  The first encounter between Jesus and the woman is rather amusing. The woman, astonished at Jesus' willingness to speak to her, reminds Him of proper Jewish/Samaritan etiquette. To associate with a Samaritan, much less to accept food or drink from such a person, would cause a Jew to become ritually unclean (Jn 4:7).  Samaritans were thought to be worse than pagan Gentiles since they were considered apostate Jews at best and Gentile heretics at the worst.  This is what made Jesus' story of the "Good Samaritan" so astonishing for the Jews (Lk 10:30-37).  It is also outside the boundaries of Jewish customs for a man to converse with women in public who are not part of his immediate family (Jn 4:27) much less a woman who is a recognized sinner by Jewish standards (Jn 4:18).  But, unlike Jews becoming ritually unclean by coming into contact with sinners, when sinners come into contact with Jesus they are cleansed ritually and spiritually.

John 4:10 (Jesus to the woman) "If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him and he would have given you living water." Verse 10 is Jesus' 2nd statement.
Jesus issues a 2-part challenge to the Samaritan woman:

  1. That she recognize who is speaking to her.
  2. That she will ask Him for "living water."

St. John has a fondness for using words with a double meaning.  The word zoe in Greek can mean "living" as well as "flowing."  Just as in His encounter with Nicodemus, Jesus uses common words and expressions to express a deeper teaching.  Everyone knows that water is essential for physical life.  Similarity the grace of Jesus Christ is absolutely necessary for supernatural life!  It is this supernatural "water" that truly gives life.  Jesus uses the ordinary and the mundane to lead to the Samaritan woman away from her chore of drawing water from an ordinary well to the point where she understands that it is more than this well water she needs.  What she needs is the better more satisfying "water" that wells up to eternal life.

John 4:11-12 (Woman to Jesus): The woman said to him, "Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where then can you get this living water?  12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?" 
The Greek word kyrie means both "sir" and "lord."  The woman addresses Jesus with increasing respect.  Considering that they are at a well it is natural that she thinks of water on a material and earthly level as "flowing" water which is a preferable source of water to non-flowing well water.  But Jesus is not referring to "flowing water;" He is referring to "living water." The "living water" is not Jesus himself but something spiritual that he offers to the woman and to the believer who can recognize God's gift.  The "living water" is not eternal life but leads to it (see verse 14).

In the 2nd - 4th centuries AD, Christian scholars like St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine of Hippo, and St. Jerome saw "living water" as the revelation which Jesus gives to mankind, or the Spirit of God which Jesus gives to mankind.  Since Medieval times, Biblical scholars like St. Thomas Aquinas and others have seen the "living water" as a symbol for sanctifying grace.  Most modern Catholic scholars believe Jesus is speaking of the life and vitality of the Spirit of God that is God's gift to us.  All these scholars, however, would agree that this gift is given in the Sacrament of Christian Baptism. The use of the symbol of water is a very realistic way for Jesus to symbolize the importance of this gift: water is to natural life as living water is to eternal life.  Jesus speaks symbolically of water in the same sense as the prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel and Zechariah:

It is the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that:  The symbolism of water signifies the Holy Spirit's action in Baptism, since after the invocation of the Holy Spirit it becomes the efficacious sacramental sign of new birth: just as the gestation of our first birth took place in water, so the water of Baptism truly signifies that our birth into the divine life is given to us in the Holy Spirit.  As "by one Spirit we were all baptized," so we are also "made to drink of one Spirit."  Thus the Spirit is also personally the living water welling up from Christ crucified as its source and welling up in us to eternal life (CCC 694)Also see Baptism in the Economy of Salvation: CCC 1217-1222; Christ's Baptism: CCC 1223-1225; and Baptism in the Church: CCC 1226-1228.

The "living water" Jesus promises prefigures Christian Baptism which Jesus taught is necessary for salvation (Jn 3:3, 5).  He also commanded his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptize them (Mt 28:19-20).  Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament.  The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude.  It is for this reason that she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are "reborn of water and the Spirit." God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but He Himself is not bound by His sacraments and can extend the gift of eternal life to whomever He chooses (CCC 1257). 

In John 4:12, the woman said:  Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?"
This is an example of John's use of irony.  The woman is using Jacob as her authority.  Since the five different foreign colonists imported into the region after the Israelites were exiled by the Assyrians intermarried with the remnant of Israelites who had not been deported and assumed their worship, Jacob (Israel) became in some cases a physical "father" but in all cases a spiritual "father" (see 2 Kngs 17:24).  But the Samaritan woman is also unconsciously and ironically stating a truth; Jesus is greater than Jacob! 

In John 4:13-14, Jesus answered and said to her, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; 14 but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."  Verses 13-14 = Jesus' 3rd statement.
Christian tradition, as mentioned, associates "living water" with the Spirit and the waters of baptism in Christ which lead us to eternal life.  St. Paul describes baptism in terms of drinking from the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:13 ~ For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.
This is John's thesis: the "living water" is the Spirit.  Many Christian writers down through the centuries will expound on this theme of living water gushing forth and bringing the abundant gift of salvation.  St. Justin Martyr wrote circa 155 AD: "As a fountain of living water from God...has this our Christ gushed forth" (Dialogue with Trypho LXIX. 6).

15 The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water." 
The woman has finally discerned from Jesus' challenge in verse 10 and His teaching about living water that He is referring to "living" and not "flowing" water. She now asks for this water as He challenged her to do when He said: "If you only knew what God is offering ...you would have been the one to ask..."

Scene I, Part 2: Jesus and the woman discuss the true worship.

16 Jesus said to her, "Go call your husband and come back."  17 The woman answered and said to him, "I do not have a husband."  This is Jesus' 4th statement.
Jews would have considered the woman's life immoral.  We do not know enough about the practices of the 1st century AD Samaritans; however, she does not seem to have a bad reputation among her own people because they are willing to listen to her (verses 28-39).  It is interesting that the woman does not challenge Jesus in what He says about her past, nor does she call Him to task for being a "Jewish busy-body." 

17b Jesus answered her, "You are right in saying, "I do not have a husband."  18 For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true."  This is Jesus' 5th statement.
Since earliest times Christian scholars have found symbolism associated with the reference to "husbands" in this passage.  In Biblical times, a legal wife in a covenantal union with a man called her husband "lord," or "my man.  "Lord" is in Hebrew word adon.  But a concubine, who was considered to be property, called her "husband" "lord" or "master" but used the Canaanite word for "lord/master" which was the word baal.  Sarah could call Abraham "lord = adon" or "my man" but Hagar, the slave, could only call him "baal."  The word baal had a dual meaning.  Baal meant "lord" or "master" but "baal" also meant "god" as in the sense of pagan gods to the Hebrews.  Each of the Canaanite gods was called "baal" along with the city name or place name where baal was worshiped: for example Baal of Peor in Numbers 25:1ff was the "baal" of the plains of Peor in Moab (also see Judges 6:28; 1Kings 18:19ff, etc.).   Christian scholars have always seen a play on words or a dual meaning with the word "husband" in the passage referring to the woman's five "husbands" and the baals (baalim plural) of the five pagan peoples who were the ancestors of the Samaritans (2 Kng 17:2-24, 29-34).  Remember, Yahweh in the Old Testament and Christ in the New Testament both symbolically unite with the Church in the imagery of Bridegroom to Bride or perhaps more correctly stated as Bridegroom to covenant Bride (see Ez 16:8-14; Rev 21:1-2).

More than commenting on the woman's life, Jesus could also be referring to the five different groups of people who became the Samaritans and who brought the worship of each of their principal baals (baalim = false gods) with them and then adopted the worship of Yahweh (2 Kng 17:24).  Jesus could be saying that Samaria has had five different false gods and the god they worship now is not their own because, although they adopted the worship of Yahweh, they have reinterpreted the covenant into their own idea of worship (2 Kng 17:33-34).  Therefore, His rebuke was that their worship and their covenant which separated from the Jerusalem Church is not legitimate.  They had even rewritten passages of the Torah to reflect these changes, for example, designating the place of worship not as Jerusalem but as Mt. Gerizim in Samaria.

Jesus could also be saying that the woman, like the people of Samaria, has had five different "Lords"/gods/baals, and "he," meaning Himself, "who is with you now" (Jesus is literally with her now) is not your own; He is God but He is not her/their God.  Considering the use of double meaning words in the fourth Gospel, St. John could also be using all these symbolic meanings. (see 2 Kng 17:24-41 and Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews Book 9.14.3).

The connection between Jesus' message to the woman of Samaria, the husband-baal references together with Samaria/Israel's relationship to Yahweh is in the book of Hosea.  God gave Hosea the prophecy of the day when Israel would again become the bride of Yahweh (Hos 2:18-19; in some translations this passage is vss.16-17): When that day comes, declares Yahweh, you will call me, "My husband," no more will you call me, "My Baal."  I shall banish the names of the Baals from her lips and their name will be mentioned no more (NJB).  Jesus' witness to this woman is an amazing fulfillment of this prophecy that was written after the destruction of Israel and exile of the people in the 8th century BC.

19 The woman said to him, "Sir, I can see that you are a prophet.  20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem." 

The woman obviously realizes that Jesus is speaking about more than just her own life.  She acknowledges him as a prophet.  The early Church father Origen of Alexandria, writing in the 2nd century AD, notes that the Samaritans held as canonical only the five books of Moses.  They did not have the Histories or the Books of the Prophets in their Bible.  Since the Samaritans only accepted the Pentateuch as their canon of inspired Scripture, Moses was their only prophet and for them there had been no other prophet. 

The only passage the Samaritans had in their sacred text of the Torah (five books of Moses) that prophesied a future prophet coming to the people was in Deuteronomy 18:17 where God tells the Israelites: From among their own brothers I shall raise up a prophet like yourself.  The Samaritans only expected the Messiah to come as a prophet, unlike the Jews and Israelites who had the whole canon of Scripture and expected the Messiah to come as prophet, priest, and Davidic king.  This is an example of how imperfect Sacred Scripture translations can hinder or distort divine revelation. 

Perceiving that Jesus might be the promised prophet, she tests Him by asking him a question about worship in verse 20.  She mentions the difference between the Samaritans and the Jews concerning their center of the worship of Yahweh, suggesting there is not a great difference in worship.  Jesus corrects her and affirms that the Jews have a divine authority granted by God in the statement: "Salvation is from the Jews."  In the Old Covenant Church as in the New there can only be one center and one hierarchy of authority.  This is why in Matthew 23:2 Jesus tells the crowds: "The scribes and the Pharisees occupy the chair of Moses.  You must therefore do and observe what they tell you..."  The woman is now looking away from the material and she is looking to "the light" (Jn 8:12). Even though she diverts the topic of conversation away from her own life to something less personal, in opening the topic of worship she is beginning to think on a spiritual rather than a material level. 

21 Jesus said to her, "Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.  22 You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews.  23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him.  24 God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth."  This is Jesus' 6th statement. God established the center of worship for the Church at His Temple in Jerusalem (1Kng 7-8; 2 Chr 3:1).  When the ten Northern tribes of Israel broke away to form a divided kingdom in 930 BC, their king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel established worship at a counterfeit Temple on Mt. Gerizim.  Jesus confirms that there is One Church established by God in a holy covenant, and salvation is through that One Church.  The One Church had one geographic center and one man as mediator between men and God.  That center of worship and the hierarchy of the Church was Jerusalem, and the High Priest in Jerusalem who sat on the chair of Moses, was the mediator between God and man and governed the Church with a priestly hierarchy (Mt 23:2). 

The foundation of the Temple of the Old Covenant Church was on the physical rock of Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem, and right worship continued through physical descent to the children of Israel.  In the New Covenant, Jesus explains, true worship can come only from men and women begotten not physically but spiritually by the "Spirit of Truth."  In the New Covenant Church, there will be one geographic center (Rome) and one man as mediator.  He is the man who sits on the chair of Peter.  St. Peter, the Rock, and his successors together with the successors of the Apostles will be the spiritual fathers who are the representatives of the Most Holy Trinity.  The children of the New Covenant Church are "begotten" by God's Spirit to become inheritors of the New Covenant through a spiritual birth.  Only through the Spirit does God the Father "beget" true sons and daughters.

"God is Spirit": this is not an essential definition of God but is a description of God's dealing with men.  It means that God is Spirit toward mankind because He gives the Spirit which "begets" them in spiritual birth through baptism.  This expression is used in the same way St. John used the words "God is light" (1 John 1:5) and "God is love" (1 John 4:8).

Scene II, Part I: Jesus reveals His true identity

Scene II, Part II: Jesus teaches His disciples

In John 4:25-26,  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."  26 Jesus said to her, "I am he, the one speaking with you." This is Jesus' 7th statement to the woman of Samaria.
In verse 25, the woman speaks of the coming of the promised Messiah.  In verse 26, Jesus reveals His identity as the promised Messiah.  At the return of the disciples, the Samaritan woman leaves to tell her community what has happened to her. Jesus then teaches His disciples using the metaphor of the harvest.

In Jesus' 7th statement to the woman of Samaria, He uses the significant words "I am" which recalls God's revelation to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3:14: This is what you are to say to the Israelites, "I AM has sent me to you."  As mentioned above, the Samaritans did not expect the Messiah in the sense of an anointed king of the house of David (they did not have those books in their Bible).  They expected a Ta'eb  = "the one who returns," in the form of the Prophet-like-Moses, the teacher/Law-giver.  This belief was the fifth article in the Samaritan creed. Their belief in this prophet-Messiah came from God's promise to Moses in Deuteronomy 18:17-19 ~ from their own brothers I shall raise up a prophet like yourself; I shall put my words into his mouth and he will tell them everything I command him (NJB, emphasis added).  The Samaritan woman is referring directly to this passage.  The woman is coming into the "light."  She finally recognizes who has offered her this living water and Jesus affirms her declaration that He is the Messiah.  The last part of the challenge that Jesus made to the woman in verse 10 has now been completed.

27 At that moment his disciples returned, and were amazed that he was talking with a woman, but still no one said, "What are you looking for?" or "Why are you talking with her?"  28 The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, 29 "Come see a man who told me everything I have done.  Could he possibly be the Christ?"  30 They went out of the town and came to him. 
By this time, the disciples have already learned not to question Jesus when He breaks with custom or tradition, but St. John wants us to understand that this was unusual behavior for a religious Jew.  It is interesting that John includes the detail that the woman left her water jar.  She has recognized that the spiritual water Jesus promises is much more valuable than the material, natural water she was going to collect in her earthen vessel.

St. Augustine in his commentary on this passage suggests that the water jar is the fallen desire of man that draws pleasure from the dark wells of the world but is never satisfied for long.  He compares that desire, symbolized by the water jar that does not satisfy, to conversion to Christ which moves us to renounce the world, leave behind the desires of our earthen vessels, and to follow a new way of life. (St. Augustine, Homilies on St. John, 15, 16, 30).

The woman has not come fully "into the Light" because she still hesitates in her announcement to the people by asking the question: "Could he possibly be the Christ?" instead of Philip's declaration to Nathanael (Jn 1:45) or Andrew's revelation to Simon Peter: "We have found the Messiah!" (Jn 1:41).

Scene II, Part 2: Jesus' dialogue with the disciples
30 They went out of the town and came to him.  31 Meanwhile, the disciples urged him, "Rabbi, eat."  32 But he said to them, "I have food to eat of which you do not know."  33 So the disciples said to one another, "Could someone have brought him something to eat?"  34 Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work.  35 Do you not say, 'In four months the harvest will be here'?  I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest.  36 The reaper is already receiving payment and gathering crops for eternal life, so that the sower and reaper can rejoice together.  37 For here the saying is verified that 'One sows and another reaps.'  38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the work, and you are sharing the fruits of their work."
It is possible that Jesus was showing the signs of weakness from lack of food, and therefore, His disciples were concerned.  He is fully human and feels all the physical effects of lack of food and sleep. 

34b My food is to do the will of the one who sent me, and to finish his work.
The "food" Jesus is talking about is the will of the Father that is always the driving force behind Jesus' mission.  Both the Synoptic Gospels and St. Paul in his epistles teach that God the Father sent Jesus to do His will but St. John stresses this teaching to the point of insistence!

35b I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest
Jesus is probably looking out at the fields around Samaria, but He is not speaking of the physical harvest of the crops since it is four months before harvest time (verse 35).  Jesus is telling the disciples it is the Samaritan people who are "ripe for harvest."  The Samaritans who are coming to Christ are His first harvest of souls for God's storehouse; they are Jesus' "first fruits."  The reapers are the disciples and the sowers are those who have labored before them, the prophets of the Old Testament and Jesus Himself.  In John 3:12, Jesus taught that faith consists in recognizing Him as the envoy of the Father (also see 7:28-29; 17:21, 25; 19:9b).  Jesus tells His disciples in verses 35-38 that He will send them as envoys of the Father (the word apostle means envoy or emissary in Greek) into the harvest of the world (Jn 13:30; 17:18; 20:21; also see Acts 1:26; 22:21; Rom 1:1).

Scene III: The Samaritans come to believe in the Messiah
John 4:39-42 ~ Many Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman who testified, "He told me everything I have done."  40 When the Samaritans came to him, they invited him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days.  41 Many more began to believe in him because of his word, 42 and they said to the woman, "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."
It is a very spiritually symbolic experience that marks the beginning of a new day/age for the people of Samaria.  It was the end of their rejection and a new beginning in their relationship with Yahweh.  It is significant that they no longer only believed on the basis of the woman's testimony but believed for themselves. 

the savior of the world.
The Samaritans are the first to recognize that the salvation Jesus offers is for all the nations of the world.  In declaring Jesus "the Savior of the world," they now believe what St. John will later write: He is the expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world (1 Jn 2:2). 

St. John uses marital imagery in chapters 2, 3, and 4 to present Jesus Christ as the Bridegroom of the New Covenant Church.  That Jacob's well is the setting of Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman is St. John's way of reminding the reader that in the Old Testament, a well was the place where a bride is courted, as when Jacob/Israel first saw his beloved Rachel (Gen 29:9-14).  In Chapter 4, through the Samaritan woman, Jesus the Bridegroom is speaking to His beloved Israel, and He is calling her back into a loving New Covenant relationship with Him that is meant to bear fruit in the salvation of the children of all the generations of mankind.

Catechism References:
Exodus 17:3-7
Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9
Romans 5:1-2, 5-8
John 4:5-42

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2014; revised 2017