In today’s gospel, Jesus is journeying through Samaria, a region located between His base of operations in Galilea (to the North) and Jerusalem (in the South). Jews and Samaritans did not mix. Dating back to the split of the David kingdom of the 12 tribes of Israel in approximately 975 BC, 10 of the tribes of Israel (calling themselves Israelites) broke away from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin (Jews) due to the cruelty of King Rehoboam of the tribe of Judah (David’s grandson, Solomon’s son). As a result, the Jews (south) would not allow the Israelites (North) worship in the Temple in Jerusalem which was located in the territory of Judah.
Because of this, the Israelites (north) create their own religion which brings back the worship of the Golden calf. After over 200 years of turmoil, idol worship, and warring dynasties vying for the King of Israel, God allowed the 10 tribes of the North to be conquered by the Assyrians. The Assyrians took most of the Israelites out of the land and spread them throughout the world to prevent them from uprising. They filled the land of Samaria of the Israelites with people from 5 other gentile nations they had conquered. Over time, the remaining Israelites would marry and have offspring with the gentiles, thus continuing to expand the worship of the Samaritans to more idols. By the time of Jesus, the Jews (south) looked at the Samaritans as second class citizens who had abandoned God and mixed their ancestry with gentiles thus renouncing their claim to being God’s chosen people.
As Jesus walks into the lives of the people of Sychar, He is intending to bring His lost sheep of Israel back to Him. He talks directly with a woman (very uncommon for a Rabbi of Jesus’ day to do) who obviously has a checkered history due to her drawing water at noon (well after the rest of the women drew water).
Jesus intentionally seeks her out and echoes the same sentiment that He will utter from the cross: He is thirsty. Instead of giving Him water, the woman is incredulous that Jesus is even talking to her. Jesus ignores this and pushes to the main point of the divine meeting, He wants to give her the waters of eternal life. She accepts the invitation, and asks for it.
Now that she desires the water of eternal life, Jesus calls her out of her sin by bringing up her past with a multitude of husbands, and her current infidelity. The woman, realizing that Jesus is a prophet, switches the conversation to the religious argument that began almost 1000 years earlier with the split of the Davidic Kingdom. Jesus does not become bogged down with a location of worship debate because both the Jews and Samaritans focused on external forms of worship. Rather, He prophesies that true worship will come by the Spirit and Truth which comes from the interior. His statement foreshadows His paschal sacrifice and the Eucharistic celebration which will allow the world to enter into His worship of the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit. Finally, she confesses that she has faith in the Messiah, and Jesus, rewarding her faith, affirms that He is the Messiah. The woman is overjoyed and tells the whole town about him.
In the woman at the well, we see a microcosm of discipleship in a matter of minutes. Jesus reaches out to someone stuck in their sin who was not even expecting to have a conversation with Him. Then after she accepts the invitation of eternal life, Jesus calls her to repentance. He then catechizes her briefly, explaining right worship. Finally, He fully reveals himself to her which causes her to forget her water jug (worldly concerns) and tell everyone she knows about Jesus. In the same way that Jesus calls the woman, we who believe in Jesus are to bring the world to Him.
In calling the woman, Jesus is also calling all Samaritans. The woman who has 5 husbands, directly calls out Israel and its ‘marriage’ to the gods of the 5 other nations brought into their territory. It is through the woman that many Samaritans accept Jesus as the Messiah. The Kingdom of God was not meant for just the Jews, even though salvation is of the Jews. It was meant for all people.
We must remember today as we continue our Lenten journey, that we are the woman at the well. We are sinners who are being offered the waters of eternal life from Jesus who thirsts for us. The acceptance of this water demands that we forget worldly concerns, repent of our sins, worship in Spirit and in Truth, and go tell everyone we can about Jesus. This is what it means to do the will of the Father, and this is true food and true drink.