It is high noon when Jesus stops to rest by the well of Jacob. His revelation about life-giving water will provide a light that challenges the sun. When he asks the Samaritan woman for a drink, she is amazed that he seems so unaware of how things really are. Does he not know about the human conventions that have condemned her to social invisibility? After all, women were supposed to be ignored in public and she was also a despised Samaritan. How can Jesus be so out of touch?
When Jesus answers her, we discover that it is she who is out of touch. For she does not know about the “gift of God” that Jesus offers–a gift that is as refreshing and enlivening as bubbling, cool spring water, and thus so much better than the stale, stagnant well water on which she has been trying to survive. The woman’s eyes must have sparkled as Jesus awakened in her the dream of a life of freedom and dignity. “Sir, give me this water.”
We learn about the nature of this “living water” a bit later when the woman asks Jesus whether it is better to worship in Jerusalem or on the Samaritan Mt. Gerizim. Jesus defers to Jerusalem but adds immediately that such considerations are no longer relevant. What counts now is to welcome the Spirit who can transform the hearts of people by enabling them to experience the ultimate truth of God’s love for them. Religious places and rituals remain important but only insofar as they lead to this experience of God’s love made manifest in one’s personal union with Christ.
It is all too easy for most of us to identify with the Samaritan woman when she experienced life as often unfair and unjust, that is, as stale well water. Many powerful human institutions conceal systemic injustice in the sense that opportunities and rewards are too often provided on the basis of connections rather than of ability or merit. Even those who benefit from such arrangements will sense the lack of that joy that comes from a life where love is more important then security. To shrug off injustice as simply “the way things are” is to be condemned to the half-life of stagnant well water.
Today’s gospel invites us to dream about the possibility of a world where opportunity and hope replace the bondage of fear and despair. God really does not want us to live a life of quiet desperation. Jesus has come to reveal the Father’s love and the Spirit is ready to convince us of that fact. The Spirit of Jesus whispers constantly to us: “If you only knew the gift of God…” Our eyes too can sparkle as we dare to imagine a world, at least within our hearts, where the experience of God’s invincible love becomes a source of refreshing, life-giving water to quench our thirst for goodness and justice.
In order to avoid a cynical attitude toward life, we need to realize that the Holy Spirit wants us to redeem our own little corner of the world. We do not need to be a Messiah, but we do need to inject some messianic hope into the area of life that we can influence. The conversion of the world begins with the conversion of a kitchen or a dining room or a workplace. If each one of us would do that, the larger world would soon become what God intended it to be–a place where justice blossoms and where love bears wonderful fruit.
Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.
Image: Nicolas Poussin, French, 17th Century, Christ and the samaritan woman at the well.