3rd Sunday of Lent (A)
The Meeting of Jesus with the Samaritan Woman
A Dialogue that brings new life
1. Opening prayer
Lord Jesus, send your Spirit to help us read the Scriptures in the
same way that you read them to the disciples on the road to Emmaus.
With the light of the Word in the Bible, you helped them to discover
the presence of God in the distressing events surrounding your condemnation
to death. The cross, which seemed to put an end to all hope, was revealed
to them as the source of life and resurrection.
Create in us the silence necessary to hear your voice in creation and
in the Scriptures, in the events of daily life and in people, above
all in the poor and the suffering. May your word give us direction,
just as it did to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, so that we
too will experience the power of your resurrection and bear witness
to others that you are alive in our midst as the source of community,
of justice and of peace. We ask this of you, Jesus, son of Mary, you
who revealed the Father to us and sent us your Spirit. Amen.
a) A key for unlocking the text:
The text describes the dialogue between Jesus and the
Samaritan woman. It is a very human conversation, which shows how Jesus
related to people and how he himself learned and became enriched in
talking with others. While reading the text, try to be aware of what
surprises you most about the attitude both of Jesus and the woman.
b) A division of the text to assist a careful
Jn 4,5-6: Sets the scene in which the dialogue takes
Jn 4,7-26: Describes the dialogue between Jesus and the woman
††††††††7-15: about water and thirst
††††††††16-18: about the husband and family
††††††††19-25: about religion and the place for adoration
Jn 4,27-30: Describes the effect of the conversation on the woman
Jn 4,31-38: Describes the effect of the conversation on Jesus
Jn 4,39-42: Describes the effect on the mission of Jesus in Samaria
c) The text:
5-6: So he came to a city of Samaria, called
Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob's well
was there, and so Jesus, wearied as he was with his journey, sat down
beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.
7-15: There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said
to her, "Give me a drink." For his disciples had gone away into the
city to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, "How is it that you,
a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?" For Jews have no dealings
with Samaritans. Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and
who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked
him, and he would have given you living water." The woman said to him,
"Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do
you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who
gave us the well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?"
Jesus said to her, "Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again,
but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst;
the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water
welling up to eternal life." The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this
water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw."
Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come here." The woman
answered him, "I have no husband." Jesus said to her, "You are right
in saying, 'I have no husband'; for you have had five husbands, and
he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly."
19-26: The woman said to him, "Sir, I perceive that you are a
prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and you say that in
Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship." Jesus said to her,
"Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain
nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do
not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But
the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship
the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship
him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit
and truth." The woman said to him, "I know that Messiah is coming (he
who is called Christ); when he comes, he will show us all things." Jesus
said to her, "I who speak to you am he."
27-30: Just then his disciples came. They marvelled that he was
talking with a woman, but none said, "What do you wish?" or, "Why are
you talking with her?" So the woman left her water jar, and went away
into the city, and said to the people, "Come, see a man who told me
all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?" They went out of the city
and were coming to him.
31-38: Meanwhile the disciples besought him, saying, "Rabbi,
eat." But he said to them, "I have food to eat of which you do not know."
So the disciples said to one another, "Has any one brought him food?"
Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and
to accomplish his work. Do you not say, 'There are yet four months,
then comes the harvest? I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see how the
fields are already white for harvest. He who reaps receives wages, and
gathers fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice
together. For here the saying holds true, 'One sows and another reaps.'
I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour; others have laboured,
and you have entered into their labour."
39-42: Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because
of the woman's testimony, "He told me all that I ever did." So when
the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he
stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They
said to the woman, "It is no longer because of your words that we believe,
for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the
Saviour of the world."
3. A moment of silent prayer
so that the Word of God can enter into us and light
up our lives.
4. Some questions
to help us in our meditation and prayer.
a) What most attracted your attention in Jesusí attitude
to the woman during the dialogue? What method did Jesus use to help
the woman become aware of a deeper dimension to life?
b) What most attracted your attention about the attitude of the Samaritan
woman during her conversation with Jesus? How did she influence Jesus?
c) Where in the Old Testament, is water associated with the gift of
life and the gift of the Holy Spirit?
d) How does Jesusí attitude during the conversation question me or touch
something within me or correct me?
e) The Samaritan woman led the discussion towards religion. If you could
come across Jesus and talk to him, what would you like to talk about?
f) Do I adore God in spirit and in truth or do I find my security in
rituals and regulations?
5. A key to the reading
for those who wish to go deeper.
a) The symbolism of water:
* Jesus uses the word water in two senses.
The first sense is the material, normal sense of water that one
drinks; the second is the symbolic sense as the source of life
and the gift of the Spirit. Jesus uses a language that people can understand
and, at the same time, awakes in them, the desire to go deeper and to
discover a more profound meaning to life.
* The symbolic sense of water has its roots in the
Old Testament, where it is frequently a symbol for the action of the
Spirit of God in people. For example, Jeremiah compares running water
to water in a cistern (Jer. 2,13). The more water is taken from a cistern,
the less it has; the more water is taken from a stream of living water,
the more it has. Other texts from the Old Testament: Is.12,3; 49,10;
55,1; Ez. 47, 1-3. Jesus knew the traditions of his people and he uses
these in his conversation with the Samaritan woman. Suggesting the symbolic
meaning of water, he suggests to her (and to the readers) various episodes
and phrases from the Old Testament.
b) The dialogue between Jesus and the woman:
* Jesus meets the woman at the well, a traditional
place for meetings and conversations (Gen 24,10-27;29,1-14). He starts
off from his own very real need because he is thirsty. He does this
in such a way that the woman feels needed and she serves him. Jesus
makes himself needy in her regard. From his question, he makes it possible
for the woman to become aware that he depends on her to give him something
to drink. Jesus awakens in her the desire to help and to serve.
* The conversation between Jesus and the woman has
(i) The superficial level, in the material sense of water
that quenches someoneís thirst, and in the normal sense of husband
as the father of a family. At this level the conversation is tense
and difficult and does not flow. The Samaritan woman has the upper hand.
At the beginning, Jesus tries to meet her by talking about daily chores
(fetching water), but he does not succeed. Then he tries by talking
about family (call your husband), and still there is no breakthrough.
Finally the woman speaks about religion (the place of adoration).
Jesus then gets through to her by the door she herself has opened.
(ii) The deeper level, in the symbolic sense of water
as the image of the new life brought by Jesus, and of the husband
as the symbol of the union of God with the people. At this level,
the conversation flows perfectly. After revealing that he himself is
offering the water of new life, Jesus says, "Go and get your husband
and then return". In the past, the Samaritans had five husbands, or
five idols, attached to the five groups of people who were taken off
by the King of Assyria (2 Kings 17, 30-31). The sixth husband, the one
the woman had at present, was not truly her husband: "the one you have
now is not your husband" (Jn. 4,18). What the people had did not respond
to their deepest desire: union with God, as a husband who unites himself
to his spouse (Is. 62,5; 54,5). The true husband, the seventh, is Jesus,
as promised by Hosea: "I will espouse you to me forever; I will espouse
you in right and in justice, in love and in mercy. I will espouse you
in fidelity, and you shall know the Lord." (Hos. 2, 21-22). Jesus is
the bridegroom who has arrived (Mk. 2, 19) to bring new life to the
woman who has been searching for it her whole life long, and until now,
has never found it. If the people accept Jesus as "husband", they will
have access to God wherever they are, both in spirit and in truth (vv.
* Jesus declares his thirst to the Samaritan woman
but he does not drink. This is a sign that we are talking about a symbolic
thirst, which had to do with his mission: the thirst to accomplish the
will of his Father (Jn. 4, 34). This thirst is ever present in Jesus
and will be until his death. At the moment of his death, he says, "I
am thirsty" (Jn. 19, 28). He declares his thirst for the last time and
so he can say, "It is accomplished." Then he bowed his head and gave
up his spirit. (Jn. 19,30). His mission had been accomplished.
c) The importance of women in the Gospel of
* In Johnís Gospel, women feature prominently seven
times, which are decisive for the spreading of the Good News. To women
are given functions and missions, some of which, in the other Gospels,
are attributed to men:
- At the wedding feast in Cana, the mother of Jesus recognises the limits
of the Old Testament and affirms the law of the Gospel, "Do whatever
he tells you". (Jn. 2, 1-11).
- The Samaritan woman is the first person to have revealed to her by
Jesus the great secret, that he is the Messiah. "It is I who speak to
you." (Jn. 4,26). She then becomes the evangeliser of Samaria (Jn. 4,
- The woman, who is called an adulteress, at the moment of receiving
the forgiveness of Jesus, becomes the judge of the patriarchal society
(or of male power) that seeks to condemn her. (Jn. 8, 1-11).
- In the other Gospels it is Peter who makes the solemn profession of
faith in Jesus (Mt. 16, 16; Mk. 8,29; Lk. 9,20). In the Gospel of John,
it is Martha, sister of Mary and Lazarus, who makes the solemn profession
of faith (Jn. 11,27).
- Mary, the sister of Martha, anoints the feet of Jesus for the day
of his burial (Jn. 12,7). At the time of Jesus, the one who died on
a cross was not buried nor embalmed. Mary anticipated the anointing
of Jesusí body. This means that she accepted Jesus as the Messiah-Suffering
Servant, who must die on the cross. Peter did not accept this (Jn.13,8)
and sought to dissuade Jesus from this path (Mt. 16,22). In this way,
Mary is presented as a model for the other disciples.
- At the foot of the cross, Jesus says, "Woman, behold your son; son,
behold your mother" (Jn. 19,25-27). The Church is born at the foot of
the cross. Mary is the model for the Christian community.
- Mary Magdalene must announce the Good News to the brothers (Jn. 20,11-18).
She receives an order, without which all the other orders given to the
apostles would have no effect or value.
* The Mother of Jesus appears twice in Johnís Gospel:
at the beginning, at the wedding feast in Cana (Jn. 2, 1-5), and at
the end, at the foot of the cross (Jn. 19, 25-27). In both cases, she
represents the Old Testament that waits for the arrival of the New,
and, in both cases, assists its arrival. Mary unites what has gone before
with what would come later. At Cana, it is she, the Mother of Jesus,
symbol of the Old Testament, who perceives its limits and takes steps
so that the New will arrive. At the hour of Jesusí death, it is the
Mother of Jesus, who welcomes the "Beloved Disciple". In this case the
Beloved Disciple is the new community, which has grown around Jesus.
It is the child that has been born from the Old Testament. In response
to Jesusí request, the son, the New Testament, welcomes the Mother,
the Old Testament, into his home. The two must journey together. The
New Testament cannot be understood without the Old. It would be a building
without a foundation. The Old without the New would be incomplete. It
would be a tree without fruit.
6. Psalm 19 (18)
God speaks to us through nature and through the Bible
The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes forth like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them;
and there is nothing hid from its heat.
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever;
the ordinances of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover by them is thy servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
But who can discern his errors?
Clear thou me from hidden faults.
Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord,
my rock and my redeemer.
7. Final Prayer
Lord Jesus, we thank you for your word, which has helped
us see better the will of the Father. Let your Spirit illumine all that
we do and give us the strength to carry out that which your Word has
made us see. Let us, like Mary, your Mother, not only listen to the
Word but also put it into practice. You who live and reign with the
Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.