WHEN JESUS HEARD that John had been imprisoned, He withdrew with His disciples north to Galilee. With John gone, his followers would be looking to Jesus for leadership; but He did not desire a large following at this time. The Pharisees were already alarmed at His influence, and such an influx of disciples from John’s encampment would have led the Jewish leaders to drastic action.
He took the route through Samaria. This was usually dangerous, because of the centuries-old feud between the Jews and Samaritans; but Jesus was making His journey a month after the paschal season when the Samaritans would not be on the lookout for pilgrims returning from Jerusalem.
By noon of the second day, Jesus and the disciples had reached Sichar, about thirty miles north of Jerusalem. This was the site of Jacob’s Well, and Jesus, wearied by the long journey, sat down to rest beside the famous well while His disciples went off to buy food in the town.
Presently a Samaritan woman came up to draw water, and Jesus said to her:
“Give Me to drink.”
His speech marked Him as a Galilean Jew, and the woman looked at Him in surprise . “How is it,” she said, “that Thou, although Thou art a Jew, dost ask drink of me, who am a Samaritan woman.” But Jesus said:
“If thou didst know the gift of God, and who it is who says to thee, ‘Give Me to drink,’ thou, perhaps, wouldst have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water.”
Taking His words literally, the woman protested that He had not even an implement to draw water from the well. How, then, could He draw living water (by which was meant spring water)? Besides, Jacob and his children had been satisfied with this well. Did the stranger pretend to have access to any thing better? Was He greater than Jacob?
Continuing with the comparison of His grace to spring water, Jesus said:
“Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again. He, however, who drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him shall become in him a fountain of water, springing up unto life everlasting.”
The woman was now anxious to bring this odd conversation to an end. Abruptly, and in a tone of irony, she said, “Sir, give me this water that I may not thirst, or come here to draw.” But Jesus passed to another theme: her readiness for His grace.
“Go, call thy husband and come here.”
Surprised, and somewhat disconcerted, she replied that she had no husband. And Jesus said:
“Thou hast said well, ‘I have no husband,’ for thou hast had five husbands, and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband. In this thou hast spoken truly .”
She was convinced now that He was a seer, a prophet; and she was touched by the fact that He had deigned to talk with her, though He had this knowledge of her sins. Sincerely desirous of changing her life, she broached the subject of religion, presuming that Jesus would also wish her to forsake her Samaritan cult. Pointing toward Mount Garizim, the site of the Samaritans’ temple, she said: “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you [that is, the Jews] say that at Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.” And Jesus answered:
‘Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. For the Father also seeks such to worship Him. God is spirit, and they who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.”
“I know,” the woman said, “that Messiah is coming (who is called Christ), and when He comes He will tell us all things.”
Then Jesus revealed Himself to her, saying:
“I who speak with thee am He.”
It was at this moment that the disciples returned. They were surprised to find Jesus conversing with a Samaritan woman; but they made no remark, for they esteemed Him too highly to presume to criticize His manners.
Presenting the food they had brought, they urged Him to eat, but He said:
“I have food to eat of which you do not know.”
They looked at one another inquiringly. Had some one brought Him food during their absence? He went on:
“My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, to accomplish His work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest’? Well, I say to you, lift up your eyes and behold that the fields are already white for the harvest. And he who reaps receives a wage, and gathers fruit unto life everlasting, so that the sower and the reaper may rejoice together. For herein is the proverb true, ‘One sows, another reaps.’ I have sent you to reap that on which you have not labored. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labors.”
Meanwhile, the woman had told the people of her encounter with Jesus. Impressed, they went to Him and persuaded Him to stay with them two days. And when they had heard Him speak, they knew, independent of her testimony, that He was “in truth the Savior of the world.”
The Samaritans were hated by the Jews; they were looked upon as heretics, outsiders, inferiors. Normally a Jew would not even talk to a Samaritan. Hence, the Samaritan woman was surprised that Christ addressed her. His disciples, too, wondered that He spoke to her. But to our Lord she was a person in need of help; in that situation all racial taboos were insignificant. Is my kindness and helpfulness limited to those of my class, of my race, of my nation? Would I give myself in personal service to those outside my own circle?
Information from The Life of Christ “Our Lord’s Life with Lesson in His Own Words for Our Life Today” The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 29-30. © 1954 edited by Reverend John P. O’Connell, MASTD and Jex Martin, following mainly A Chronological Harmony of the Gospels by Stephen J Hartdegen OFM NIHIL OBSTAT John A McMahon; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago August 1, 1953. Print. Drawing by Albert H Winkler.