Between the Jewish regions of Judaea and Galilee lived the Samaritans, descended from people left behind when the Assyrian Empire exiled many Israelites. The Samaritans and the Jews both claimed to inherit the ancient Covenant; hence they resented each other.
To everyone’s astonishment, Jesus mingled with the Samaritans. But it was part of His purpose to fulfil Ezekiel’s prophecy that one divine Shepherd would reunite the Tribes.
Jesus and His disciples come to Jacob’s Well, this place fraught with promise. And we can hear John telling aloud what he had witnessed, before it got written down: the text, literally, runs, “Jesus, wearied by the journey, sat down like this beside the well” – He had a characteristic posture, which John demonstrated.
Then this woman of dubious character comes to the well outside the village, the one away from the gossip, at a time when the other women will be safely indoors. It’s the hottest time of the day, the time when Jesus will be thirsty on the Cross.
Jesus and the woman spar respectfully with each other in view of Mount Gerizim, where the Samaritans had had their Temple till a Jewish leader pulled it down, and where they sacrifice the Passover to this day. Into the conversation come moments of revelation – of who Jesus is, of who the Spirit is, of what Jesus will do, of what the Spirit will do for us.
The woman recognises that Messiah is coming, who will disclose everything. Jesus replies, “I, speaking to you, I AM HE.” He is the Messiah, He is greater than Jacob; He is God come in the flesh, the Father’s Word come to reveal the Father’s love and enact the Father’s plan.
We hear again of the Living Water – I say “again”, because earlier in this Gospel Jesus has told Nicodemus that we must be born as God’s children by the work of the Holy Spirit who is the Water of new birth. In today’s passage, Jesus tells us that the Spirit will enter us to refresh us and create a life that will grow into the eternal life of sharing God’s bliss.
“Living Water” is one of the images of the Spirit that seem impersonal – but they aren’t impersonal, they are intimate. Cool spring water enters us to delight as well as refresh and enliven, and so it is with the Spirit.
Jesus will give the living and life-giving Water; that is the work His Father had asked Him to accomplish. For in the eternal life of God the Holy Trinity, the Divine Spirit “flows forth” from God the Father through God the Son; so, fittingly, in the course of time, the Spirit was to flow to us through the saving work of Jesus Christ, God the Son become Mary’s Son. John has told us that the Father’s Word dwelt amongst us full of Grace and Loyalty, that is, full of the Holy Spirit who is the Divine Love and Gift in Person, so that from Jesus’ fullness we might all receive. A bit after today’s passage Jesus says the Living Water will flow from His Heart when He fulfils what was prophesied when Moses struck the rock. Later on, John will tell us how he saw Jesus on the Cross bow His Head and hand over the Spirit, and how he saw the flow of Blood and Water – that is, Living Water – bear witness to this Gift. Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit, who pours into our hearts the divine love, Charity, that is a “sharing” in Himself.
Jesus and the woman discuss where worship may be performed. This is not worship in a general sense – all the Jews, and all the Samaritans, knew you can pray to God and praise Him anywhere. The debate concerned the proper place to offer sacrifice. The Samaritans only offered sacrifice on Mount Gerizim, the Jews only in Jerusalem. But, through the Spirit, Jesus has made a new dignity available, which enables His disciples to offer Sacrifice anywhere. We shall do it here as Mass continues. Through, with, and in Christ, we shall render every honour and glory to God the Father, in the unity of the Spirit of Truth. On the Cross, Jesus offered Himself to the Father in the eternal Spirit, and we are given the dignity of sharing in the offering of that One Sacrifice, so that we may journey towards sharing Jesus’ eternal thanksgiving within the joy of the same Spirit.