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This Truly Is the Saviour of the World

Lent 3     Year A

A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
www.hebrewcatholic.org.nz

Click here for a printable copy of this paper

St John 4: 5 — 42

 

Introduction

This reading comes at the middle of the time of prayer and fasting in preparation for the great Easter celebrations. Although it is the Year of Matthew, we suspend our methodical walk through that Gospel account until after the celebration of Pentecost. Most of the readings until then will be from the Gospel according to St John.

The text for our meditation is about the encounter between our Lord and a Samaritan woman at the spot known from ancient times as Jacob’s Well. It follows on from the account of John the Baptist’s disciples who had come to him saying:

“Rabbi, he who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you
bore witness, here he is, baptizing, and all are going to him.”

John the Baptist’s reply is one of the most beautiful passages in all Scripture. It signals a change in the flow of events, which is noted by the critics of John who shift their focus to Jesus.

The following preamble to our text takes us to the opening scene.

John spared no one in his rebukes. The Pharisees had felt his stinging
words, and now Herod Antipas, prince of Galilee and Perea. Antipas
imprisoned him immediately in his fortress at Machaerus, east of the
Dead Sea. With John out of the way, the Pharisees could now
concentrate their attacks on Jesus. So he decided to leave hostile Judea,
and make Galilee the scene of his ministry; there he will labour for the
next eighteen months. Possibly to avoid trouble from Antipas’ Police,
who had just arrested John further up the Jordan, Jesus returned to
Galilee through the Samaritan hill country to the west. It was now a
month after the paschal feast (Passover), and so the Samaritans would
not be on the lookout for Jewish pilgrims; moreover, a small party
coming up from the Jordan would not attract attention. This route was
also more pleasant and cooler than the Jordan in May.
                                                                                          (The Gospel Story by R. Cox.)

Click here for a printable copy of our text.

 

 
Reflections On the Text

We draw significantly from:

•    “The Gospel Story” by R. Cox (1950)
•    Jerome Commentary (1968)
•    Other sources

Verses 5 and 6

5    So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the plot
      of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.

6    Jacob’s well was there. Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down
      there at the well. It was about noon.

Jesus came to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph, and in which Joseph’s bones were later laid (Joshua 24: 32). Being wearied from his journey, Jesus sat down nearby, around midday.

The venerable evangelist and scholar St John Chrysostom (4th Century) adds something to note:

“Not on a throne, not on a cushion, but simply, and as he was,
on the ground.”

Cox also helps us with setting the scene:

Our Lord was tired after the morning walk from the Jordan; it would
be about twelve miles, and uphill all the way. How many disciples
were with him? He was left alone at the well; hardly more than two
or three would be required to buy food. John, who tells the story,
was one of them; Peter probably another, and James maybe the third.
Jacob’s well, about 100 feet deep, was almost 2,000 years old; it
was only a few hundred yards from Sichar (Sichem, where Abraham
had first settled in the Promised Land).

 

Act One

Verses 7 and 8

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.

A Samaritan woman comes to draw water, and Jesus asks her for a drink. He is alone as His disciples have gone into the village to buy some food. The woman is dismayed that a Jew would talk to a woman; even more surprising to a Samaritan woman. But this is not a problem for Jesus: women held an honoured and prominent place in His discipleship throughout His ministry. That this was a Samaritan was a little bit more of an issue — but not insurpassable as Jesus was to demonstrate.

Verses 10 to 16

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.”

One of the most helpful ways to understand what is really going on in this account is simply to follow the conversation just as it flows. Let’s do this now.

Jesus:

Would you give me a drink!

Woman: What do you mean. You’re a Jew asking me a Samaritan for a drink!

Jesus: And what’s wrong with that! If you knew what God’s blessings are, and how freely he gives them; and if you knew that it is he who speaks to you that has them all in his power to give you — Then it would be you asking and he would not refuse you. And it would be living water that he would give you!

Woman: What do you mean by hinting that you can give me running water! This is a very deep well. At this time of year you don’t find running water down there at the bottom of it. And you don’t even have a bucket! Are you trying to tell me that you are greater than our Father Jacob who gave us this well? He and his sons and cattle all took water from here to quench their thirst!

Jesus: Yes, you are right. They did drink this very same water. Remember, they became thirsty again and had to drink more.

But whoever drinks the water I shall give, will never be thirsty again!
The water I shall give will become a spring of water within each person, and it will keep on flowing to satisfy that person and keep them alive and well for age upon age, upon age.

Woman: If that water will stop me ever becoming thirsty again, and save me having to come here every day to carry it back to my home, then it’s just what I need. Would you give me a drink of that water?

Cox sums up the dialogue so far for us:

The woman came when there would be nobody at the well: the
woman of Sichar would normally draw water morning and evening.
Our Lord was most likely resting in the shade of a tree nearby:
the woman hoped that he was asleep, and would not notice her.
But the Good Shepherd is never too tired to search out the lost
sheep. As soon as she drew the water he began his simple
instruction based on the present situation: thirst and water.
Water is kept in wells and cisterns; there are no running streams
in summer, except the Jordan. Jesus’ promise of such a stream
(‘living water’) sounded fantastic to the woman when be could
not even procure a drink from the well. But he was raising her
mind to higher things: the life of sanctifying grace that completely
satisfies all the thirsting of human beings for holiness and union
with God. The woman had done him a favour in giving him a
drink; he would repay her for it with the gift of eternal life.

 

Act Two

Verses 16 to 25

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 Anointed; when he comes, he will tell us
        everything.”

Our Lord has enjoyed this little banter between them, and even discerned that, being the bright and highly intelligent person she is, she has genuinely listened to Him, and, though challenging His strange suggestions, she has grown more respectful with each sentence she uttered. To the best of her ability and limited knowledge, she was trusting Jesus to give to her what she thought He was offering. That is enough for Jesus to decide that He would indeed give her what He was really offering, for that was what she really needed.

However, He must first help her sort out a few things in her life. Jesus therefore, decides, now, to change tack, and so He sparks off a new dialogue.

Jesus: Go and call your husband.

Woman: I don’t have one.

Jesus: You’re right there: you’ve had five! You know what that really means — the one you are currently living with is not your husband.

Woman: (No comment on the content of our Lord’s remarks).
I see, Sir, that you are a prophet. (Implying, it is obvious Jesus knows exactly what her background is — and that He is right.)

Did you know our fathers worshipped on this mountain even though you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only correct place to do this! (Hoping a little religious controversy will distract him and throw up a smoke screen. After all, if many wise and educated men disagree over such an important matter as to where the Temple should be, how could an ignorant woman be condemned for following her impulses! This is a very smart lady, and Jesus knows it.)

Jesus: As a matter of fact it will soon be irrelevant which mountain you think you should worship on. What will be important is first that it is not a particular place that you worship in. You will worship God “in spirit”, meaning, everywhere. Secondly you will worship God “in truth”, i.e. with the perfect homage you should pay through his Messiah. (Hinting that it will no longer be by the shadowy imperfection of the old sacrifices but by the reality and perfection of the new and eternal sacrifice.)

Woman: I’m sure you must be right. I can only remark that I know in my heart that the Messiah, when he comes, will explain everything to us in language like this that we can understand. (Implying that Jesus seems to be speaking, as she would expect of the Messiah. This is as close as she dare approach such a lofty and sacred thought.)

Verse 26

26   Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking with you.”

Jesus gratefully accepts her implied yet cautious and provisional designation of Himself as Messiah. She has come a long way in a few minutes. She has engaged in profound conversation which many people then and ever since, would prefer to side step. Jesus, in a rare open and direct manner when she says, “I know that the Messiah is coming,” now reveals his true identity:

“I am he, the one who is speaking with you.”

 

Act Three

Verses 27 and 28

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,

Suddenly the disciples return and are surprised that Jesus is talking to a woman. They know Him well enough, however, to keep such thoughts to themselves. Immediately, the woman, responding (at last) to our Lord’s request for a drink, puts down water jar and hurries back to her village. She is so excited about her meeting that she cannot wait while Jesus drinks. After all, she can collect the water jar later. Then again, with her faith increased now she has come to the source of living water. It is as though she now has no further need of any other.

Verses 29 and 30

29   “Come see a man who told me everything I have done.
        Could he possibly be the Messiah?”

30   They went out of the town and came to him.

The woman is very insistent to all who are back home. “Come and see a man who has told me everything I ever did. I am so amazed I can only believe deep down that he really is the Messiah we are waiting for!” That was enough to start everyone heading off to Jacob’s well!

Verses 31 to 38

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 his 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.”

Meanwhile, the disciples who have just returned urge Jesus:

“Rabbi, have something to eat.”

Our Lord finds them even slower on the uptake than the Samaritan woman. He walks them through an important lesson.

Cox explains this for us.

Just as our Lord has used his thirst to instruct the woman, he now
uses his hunger to teach them the essential of the new life they
are beginning to lead. His hunger is for the souls of sinful men; to
save a sinful world is ‘the task’ given him by his Father. This first
victory in winning a soul from sin turns his thoughts to the future,
and the part to be played by his first followers in converting the
world. At the moment they are more concerned with satisfying
material hunger; there is plenty of time to make plans for
future work.

This attitude of theirs reminds Him of a proverb: one sows and another reaps. After sowing it will be four months till harvesting; so one can sit down and rest till then. But how quickly time passes; the fields around them are almost ready for harvesting (white, not golden grain in Palestine).

At this moment the Samaritans are coming out to them, ready for conversion; they must be ready, then, at all times, to abandon all personal interests, even to go hungry, when souls are in need of help. No one can sit back and rest; others have already sown the seed before them (here He is thinking of the prophets of the Old Testament, and John the Baptist).

Our Lord could reveal himself as the Messiah here in Samaria because there was no danger of political revolt, as there would be in Galilee. The Samaritans were outside the general trend of Jewish opinion.

Verses 39 — 40

39   Many of the 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.

While Jesus was finishing that short lesson to His disciples, the villagers were approaching the vicinity of Jacob’s Well. Many of the townsfolk had believed in Him on the strength of the woman’s testimony. They went up to Jesus and begged him to stay with them. He accepted their invitation and stayed there for two more days, teaching those who wanted to listen. Many more came to believe in Him and His message.

Verses 41 and 42

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.”

They approached the woman and declared that they no longer believe in Jesus just because of her report, but also because they had heard Him themselves. Indeed, they recognised in Him something even more than the Messiah to which she had witnessed. The event closes with the most unexpected acclamation:

“We know that this truly is the saviour of the world”.

More literally, the Samaritans said, “This is the Saviour of the world, the Messiah (Christ)”. A more complete declaration of our Lord’s office as “Saviour of the world” is nowhere to be found in the Gospels. We are privileged, therefore, to know the circumstances in which this august and totally appropriate title is ascribed to Jesus.

 

Conclusion

This amazing account began with Jesus being recognised as a weary traveller; then a Jew; then a Prophet; then the Messiah; and finally, in an affirmation of widely held conviction, the Saviour of the world! All this from a heart that was open and willing to listen and enter into genuine dialogue as distinct from one of minimal politenesses or cold formality. As a result, the Lord was able to win many followers.

Jesus worked no wonders or miracles in this great account. Through one who was prepared to let the Lord see into the depths of her soul and put right any disorder there, He was able to convert a whole mass of people. There is surely a lesson here for the Church today. Those who want to worship in Spirit and in Truth are called to follow in this same tradition.

 

 Shalom!

 

Further Reading

For those who would like a detailed study resource
on the readings for Sunday, please visit:

Agape Bible Study — Lent 3― Year A

If you require only the section on the Gospel reading,
just scroll down the page.

To view all the material on the Agape website please visit:

www.agapebiblestudy.com

This website is highly recommended:

 

 Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature

(Mark 16: 15)

The real Jesus, is the real answer to the real needs of the world!

Let us remember God’s teaching, contained in His Word and in doing
so, remain close to Him. The following are only examples illustrating
how you can note the gems the Holy Spirit highlights for your on-going
reflection.

This Truly Is the Saviour of the World     

Lent 3     Year A                         St. John 4: 5 — 42

1.     On reflection, it seems entirely by chance that our Lord “just happened” to be tired and resting at Jacob’s Well when the “woman” (We don’t even know her name) “just happened” to arrive on the scene wanting water. He broke protocol and spoke to her as though He were a member of her family. In reality He spoke to her as a lost member of His family. That was the beginning of a remarkable revival in the countryside of Sychar in Samaria.

2.    Our Lord spoke to her of simple everyday yet religious matters. Though initially not recognised by her — they were equally true at an everyday spiritual level: living (running) water, God’s blessings, worshipping God. The woman did not quite follow our Lord as He stretched her capacity to understand; so she says something honest and plain speaking: “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Anointed; when he comes he will tell us everything”. How honest and beautiful is that! Our Lord rewards her simplicity of faith and proclaims to her, “I am he”.

3.     The disciples of Jesus are also struggling to keep up with our Lord’s somewhat obscure remarks. He stuns them: “One sows, and another reaps”. In other words: much work has already been done to prepare the hearts and minds of people for spiritual awakening. “When I send you out,” He implies, “You need to remember this. Go seeking, or they will be lost to other causes.”

Let us pray for one another that we will believe our Lord’s instruction to His disciples — then and now — that unless we share the burden of seeking lost souls, they will be attracted to other causes.

We may feel we have lost the present generation to anti-theistic movements. There is still hope of return and revival: but it must start with our focussed attention on the real Jesus of the Sacred Scriptures — the Living Word of God.

Shalom!

Click here for a printable copy of these Reflections.

John 4: 5 — 42

Lent 3    Year A

NEW AMERICAN BIBLE

5    So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, 4 near the plot of land
      that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.

6    Jacob’s well was there. Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at
      the well. It was about noon.

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    5 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   6 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, 7 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; 8 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; 9 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   10 The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one
       called the Anointed; when he comes, he will tell us everything.”

26   Jesus said to her, “I am he, 11 the one who is speaking with you.”

27   At that moment his disciples returned, and were amazed that he was
  
    talking with a woman, 12 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 Messiah?”

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 13 the harvest will be here’? I tell
        you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest.

36   The reaper is already 14 receiving his 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 of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because
        of the word of the woman 15 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.”


4 [5] Sychar: Jerome identifies this with Shechem, a reading found in Syriac manuscripts.

5 [9] Samaritan women were regarded by Jews as ritually impure, and therefore Jews were forbidden to drink from any vessel they had handled.

6 [10] Living water: the water of life, i.e., the revelation that Jesus brings; the woman thinks of “flowing water,” so much more desirable than stagnant cistern water. On John’s device of such misunderstanding, cf the note on John 3:3.

7 [11] Sir: the Greek kyrios means “master” or “lord,” as a respectful mode of address for a human being or a deity; cf John 4:19. It is also the word used in the Septuagint for the Hebrew ‘adonai, substituted for the tetragrammaton YHWH.

8 [20] This mountain: Gerizim, on which a temple was erected in the fourth century B.C. by Samaritans to rival Matthew. Zion in Jerusalem; cf Deut 27:4 (Mount Ebal = the Jews’ term for Gerizim).

9 [23] In Spirit and truth: not a reference to an interior worship within one’s own spirit. The Spirit is the spirit given by God that reveals truth and enables one to worship God appropriately ( John 14:16-17). Cf “born of water and Spirit ( John 3:5).

10 [25] The expectations of the Samaritans are expressed here in Jewish terminology. They did not expect a messianic king of the house of David but a prophet like Moses ( Deut 18:15).

11 [26] I am he: it could also be translated “I am,” an Old Testament self-designation of Yahweh ( Isaiah 43:3, etc.); cf John 6:20; 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19; 18:5-6, 8. See the note on Mark 6:50.

12 [27] Talking with a woman: a religious and social restriction that Jesus is pictured treating as unimportant.

13 [35] “In four months . . .': probably a proverb; cf Matthew 9:37-38.

14 [36] Already: this word may go with the preceding verse rather than with John 4:36.

15 [39] The woman is presented as a missionary, described in virtually the same words as the disciples are in Jesus’ prayer ( John 17:20).

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition
(c) 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington D.C.
and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of
the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in
writing from the copyright owner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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