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Province of Rwanda-Tchad: The Samaritan woman's journey of faith (Jn 4:1-42)

P eventWednesday, 07 June 2023

Faith, the source and centre of all religious life, presupposes a human response to God's plan of salvation, a journey and a decision to move from earthly to spiritual tendencies, from worldly to heavenly bonds, from below to above, from evil to good. When I read the pericope in the Gospel of John 4:1-42 about Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman, I am always touched by Jesus' patience with this woman but also by this journey of faith that he made her take. The Samaritan woman made this journey in three stages that I would like to discuss in these lines: Jesus a Jew, not greater than Jacob, Jesus a prophet and finally Jesus a messiah. Thus, thanks to her, the Samaritans recognised Jesus as the saviour of the world.


1. Jesus a Jew, not greater than Jacob (4:7-15) "Give me a drink"... "How can you, a Jew, ask a woman of Samaria for a drink?"(4:7-9 ) Jesus' approach with a simple request for a drink is not surprising because he was thirsty, the woman had water. This would imply a favourable response; one would hardly refuse a glass of cold water to a thirsty traveller in the heat of the day. But knowing the story, the woman's resistance was consistent with deep cultural feelings. For a Jew, it was forbidden to speak to a woman in public, not even to his wife or daughter. In addition to being a woman, she was a Samaritan woman and Jews do not relate to Samaritans because they consider them a mixture of races, schismatic religion and foreigners. Jesus was clearly stepping out of line, entering where he did not belong, and this woman wanted to put him in his place. At this level, she saw only a Jew asking for a drink in violation of customs.In response, Jesus wanted to take the conversation to a different level and arouse the woman's interest "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" (4:10). By this, Jesus suggested that if she looked at the same situation with an eye for God's gift, she might see it differently, relate to it differently and so discover another source of water for herself. He appealed to her curiosity "if you only knew". He implied that because of the nature of his person, he could grant her a gift from God that would be greater than any ordinary water. His hint was intended to raise her level of thinking from that of material need to spiritual realities. The woman heard his words carefully but missed his meaning, she was sceptical. "Living water" meant for her fresh gushing water such as the well provides. She did not understand how he could provide water without having any way to draw it from the well. "Sir, you have nothing to draw from and the well is deep; where do you find this living water? (4:11) Her comment was appropriate for someone whose understanding was earthbound and material, even though she was invited into another realm of divine grace and life. Still confused, unable to respond to the level at which Jesus promises the gift of which he speaks, she takes refuge in defending herself by insisting that what lies ahead is governed by what is already in her possession. Anything else is impossible, there is no room for a greater "are you greater than our father Jacob" (4:12). Her addressing the subject of their common inheritance gave him the opportunity to reveal himself to her as God's gift of life through the symbolism of water 


2. Jesus the prophet (4:16-19): As mentioned above, this woman seems to have grasped the message of the unknown imperfectly. Therefore, she is interested in the gift of a wondrous water that would quench her physical thirst. This would solve her problem of going to the well every day to fetch water. She also realised that once she got this kind of water, her life would change: she would never thirst again.

Jesus decides to deepen the dialogue with her and he responds to her request by pointing to the symbolic meaning of what he is offering which involves addressing her life experience (4:16-18)

At first glance, Jesus' request seems stranger, but it is really very appropriate, an exhortation to embark on a journey into the depths of one's heart, to reconcile one's past and present life. It is an exhortation to look into her past to see it, to understand the reason for her choices, her decision and why she never changed.

She finds herself again, known and addressed by the Word (4:16-18). Her somewhat evasive self-description "I have no husband" is confronted by Jesus' statement "...you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband". As a result, she is shocked by a new realisation. She is intimately addressed by someone who knows her. At the same time, Jesus appreciates her ability to receive the truth "you are right to say .... And what you have said is true".


3. Jesus the Messiah (4:20-26): Realizing his superhuman knowledge, the woman called him a prophet; but then she tried to deflect him. As her probing became uncomfortably personal, she began to argue over a religious issue. She raised the old controversy between Jews and Samaritans as to whether worship should be offered on Mount Gerizim, at the foot of which they stood, or in Jerusalem, where Solomon's temple had been built. So now the dialogue between the two continues on questions of the past, but no longer the past of the woman but the past of the people of Israel. The true worship of the Father is now at stake and must be revised. The past must be overcome and exorcised. Jesus asks the woman to focus on himself. From now on, the Father will no longer be worshipped in a particular place and according to detailed traditions. Jesus reveals that the Father is to be worshipped in Spirit, that is, with prayer in the heart of every believer, and in truth, that is, by Jesus himself.


Mystified by Jesus' words, the woman confesses her ignorance and at the same time expresses her desire: 'I know that the Messiah is coming; when he comes, he will show us all things' (4:25). Thus her statement allowed Jesus to unveil and voluntarily declare his messiahship "It is I who speak to you" (4:26) This response is the radical explanation of their conversation and it completes the woman's understanding and moves her to proclaim the Good News. "Then the woman left her pitcher of water and went into the city and said to the people, 'Come and see a man who has told me everything I have ever done. Could this be the Christ?' They went out of the city and came to him." (4 :28-30)

The encounter with the rabbi transformed her into an ardent missionary who proclaims the newness of salvation. This is why she invites the people of her town to come and see Jesus. That is why any journey of faith, which is true and authentic, must create in others the desire to have the same experience of Christ. The Samaritans accept the woman's words and go to him. They too want to be enriched by her words. Indeed, at the end they openly say, "We no longer believe because of your words, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world. (4 : 42)

The Samaritan woman made a real journey of faith. First of all, she was invited to recognise Jesus as the Father's gift, so that she could have a different experience in her life. It was only this acceptance of Jesus that allowed her to make a journey of faith within herself in order to evaluate her personal life in all its components and then to accept the challenge of renewal. The woman places her life in the hands of Jesus and accepts to receive the living water. She allows herself to be instructed by the one she recognises as the prophet of the new cult of the Father, then she accepts to believe in what he tells her, and finally she believes that he is the Messiah and becomes a missionary to her people.

What is the invitation to my own faith?

Sœur Ignace Marie Léonie ICYIMANIMAYE