Living Water

Living Water

Third Sunday of Lent. Fr Isidore Clarke preaches on the encounter between Christ and the Samaritan woman. 

Being a typical Englishman I’m going to begin by talking about the weather!

We rejoice when it’s dry and complain when it rains. But in an arid country, such as the Holy Land, rain is considered to be God’s blessing. The presence or absence of water makes the difference between life and death. That became very clear to me when I contrasted the barren Judean desert with the nearby ancient city of Jericho, where the presence of well water enabled people to live and grow food.

Although walking in the heat of the noon-day sun wasn’t life-threatening for Jesus, he certainly felt tired, hot and very thirsty. So he sat by Jacob’s well, near a Samaritan town. But unfortunately he had no bucket with which to draw water from the well. That must have been very frustrating! But, then, a woman came to draw water from the well. That would have been unusual in the heat of the midday sun. But perhaps her complicated love life forced her to avoid the mockery of the other women who would have come to the well in the cool of the early morning or evening.

What surprised the Samaritan woman was that Jesus spoke to her and asked her for help. Traditionally Jews despised Samaritans as being semi-pagans and had nothing to do with them.

But Christ’s thirst and his need for the Samaritan woman to draw him some water gave him the opportunity to start to break down the racial and religious barriers which normally would have kept them apart. It’s so often the case that responding to each other’s needs makes the barriers, which separate us, irrelevant.

As Jesus treated the Samaritan woman with unexpected respect she gained confidence and a fascinating conversation ensues. This developed from Christ’s thirst and his request for water.

There’s a wonderful exchange here. As the woman offers Jesus well-water to quench his bodily thirst, he offers her living water which would quench her thirst for God. Not surprisingly, she understands this in terms of bubbling spring water, as distinct from stagnant well-water. She’s eager to receive the inexhaustible supply of water, which Christ offers her, since it would free her from the arduous task of coming to the well each day.

Obviously they’ve been talking at cross purposes, with the woman thinking in terms of the kind of water that quenches physical thirst, while Jesus spoke metaphorically of a water which alone could satisfy our longing for God.

As the conversation developed she gained the confidence to raise the question as to where God should be worshipped –a sore point between Samaritans and Jews. Jesus told the Samaritan woman that the day would come when worship of God would no longer be localised on Mount Gerizim for the Samaritans or in the temple of Jerusalem for the Jews. As Jesus died on the cross for everyone he would break down the barriers which keep us apart. Now God can be worshipped in spirit and truth anywhere by everyone.

Gradually the Samaritan’s faith in Jesus progressed from first addressing him as, ‘Sir,’ then to calling him a prophet, and finally to suspecting him of being the promised Messiah –a title Jesus accepts from her, but not from the Jews.

Excitedly, she rushed to tell her neighbour about the man she thought might be the Christ. As she invited them to ‘come and see’ she expressed the mission of the Church. As they believed in Jesus they became the first fruits of God’s harvest. As Jesus stayed with them for a week, that word, ‘Stay’ prepares us his teaching about God abiding in us and we in him, as we share the very life of the Blessed Trinity.

That is the gift of God himself for which we should long. That longing for God is powerfully expressed in Psalm 63:

Oh God, you are my God, for you I long,
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
like a dry, weary land without water.

If only we appreciated the living water Christ offers us we would long for nothing apart from him!

Readings: Exodus 17:3-7 | Romans 5:1-2,5-8 | John 4:5-42

fr. Richard Conrad teaches dogmatic and sacramental theology at Blackfriars, Oxford.