John 4:5-42
Woman at the Well
 by Rev. Richard A. Miserendino
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

Home Page
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index

John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.

A woman of Samaria came to draw water.  Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”  His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.  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. – 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.”  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?  Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?”  Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; 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.”  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.”

Jesus said to her, “Go call your husband and come back.”  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.’  For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.  What you have said is true.”  The woman said to him, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet.  Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.”  Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.  You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews.  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.  God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.”  The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ; when he comes, he will tell us everything.”  Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking with you.”

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?”  The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, “Come see a man who told me everything I have done.  Could he possibly be the Christ?”  They went out of the town and came to him.  Meanwhile, the disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat.”  But he said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.”  So the disciples said to one another, “Could someone have brought him something to eat?”  Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work.  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.  The reaper is already receiving payment and gathering crops for eternal life, so that the sower and reaper can rejoice together.  For here the saying is verified that ‘One sows and another reaps.’  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.”

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.”  When the Samaritans came to him, they invited him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days.  Many more began to believe in him because of his word, 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.”

In many senses, one could say that Catholic Christianity is a well-founded faith.  In particular, our Gospel reading this Sunday invites us to consider how much of the faith seems to be founded around actual wells of water.  We heard that Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at, "Jacob's Well," the mention of which plunges us back into the world of the Old Testament. Once there, we realize that Jacob met his wife, Rachel, at this very well.  Delving further back, we find that Jacob's father, Isaac, also met his wife, Rebecca, at a well.  Before that?  Abraham had his share of wells.  Even Moses met his wife, Zipporah, at a well.  It seems that the people in the Old Testament were always meeting at wells, worshipping at wells or fighting over wells. Why?

Consider what a well meant to desert nomads like the Israelites (wandering 40 years in the wilderness).  Living amid an inhospitable wasteland, it meant life. Possession of a well equaled watered flocks, hydrated family members and even perhaps the shade of a palm tree or two.  It even gave a chance to socialize.  When you live in the desert the local watering hole is quite literally . . . the actual local water hole.

Not for nothing, the patriarchs all met their wives at wells.  Not only was it a source of life, it was also the only place in the wilderness one could reliably go to meet other people, particularly if one was looking for love.  All this gives us a bit of insight into the Samaritan woman and why she was hanging around the well.  Jesus reveals that she has cycled through a fair number of husbands.  Now she was on the hunt for another.

Yet, it's also worthwhile to consider how the well worked, physically.  You needed to guard it.  Then you needed a bucket and a rope and had to toil in the hot sun just to bring the water up from the depths for a drink.  If you had a whole flock of parched sheep, you were likely in for a good bicep and tricep workout, which would only make you thirstier in that hot sun.  Wells give life but take work.  Worse still, there's only one hole, so it cannot be used by too many people at the same time.

Contrast that with what Jesus promises the Samaritan woman (and us): "The water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."  It's a fountain, a spring.  The water comes to you.  It bubbles up continuously.  Springs and fountains turn into rivers that nourish not just a single oasis, but a whole countryside.  All can drink and be refreshed to their fill, and the water keeps coming, clean and pure.

The whole story is a living parable bout our thirst for God's love.  The Samaritan woman shows up at the well with a thirsty heart.  She's a stand-in for all of us, all of humanity.  She may or may not be looking for love in all the wrong places, but she certainly is looking for the wrong sort of love to fill what her heart really longs for.

Like the well itself, each of her many husbands have just left her thirsty again, because she was seeking a deeper sort of love that no human being could satisfy.  Like the well, those relationships took work and left her exhausted.  They were wells in a desert, but not a spring or river.  As Augustine says: "Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee, O Lord."  Jesus offers her the love of God that doesn't run dry.  In place of a well, Jesus offers us an unquenchable spring.  All too often in this life, we try to fill our thirsty hearts from watering holes that can never satisfy our heart's true thirst.  Money, the internet, fame, physical strength, even romance - the wells are many.  They fill for a time, but only just.  Our hearts always thirst for more.  This Lent, isn't it time we tried drinking of the river Christ gives instead?