Gospel Commentary: Living Water

Water is one of the most common elements in all of life. The world we live in contains more water than it does dry land. Even our bodies are mostly composed of water. In a sense, then, it is only natural that water should become the central focus of Jesus’ dialogue with the Samaritan woman presented to us in this week’s Gospel. The key to the entire episode is the comparison between Jacob and Jesus suggested by the woman when she says, "Surely you don’t pretend to be greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well and drank from it with his sons and his flocks?" The comparison goes beyond personalities and is aimed at two religious systems. Jacob was the patriarch of both the Jews and the Samaritans; he stands for the whole of the worship of God proclaimed and practiced in the Old Testament. Jesus represents the New Covenant. Within this perspective, the "water" of Jacob is the water of a well: it does not have the freshness and power of running water and is somewhat hard to reach. The water that Christ offers is "living water": it is something that contains and conveys life. In St. John’s Gospel, this water is presented as messianic, salvific. It is Christ’s gift, which carries with it an abundance and a dynamism. In concrete terms, what is the water that Christ offers? The answer is that there are no concrete terms. The image of water, like other images in John, is a metaphor that describes, from a particular angle, the entire gift of eternal life or salvation brought about by Christ. It stands for the sum total of God’s messianic gift to all humanity, a gift now available through Christ not only to the Samaritan woman but also to all who believe in Him. The very terms the woman uses to address Jesus reveal her growing faith and acceptance of the offer of salvation. At first, Jesus is simply "a Jew." Later on in their dialogue, He is called "a prophet." Finally, at the end, she recognizes Him as "the Messiah." Jesus patiently teaches the Samaritan woman so that, through His words, she is brought to a progressive deepening of insight and belief, until she herself becomes one who evangelizes: "Many Samaritans from that town believed in him on the strength of the woman’s word of testimony: ‘He told me everything I ever did.’" In Our Lord’s dialogue with the woman at the well, we can see the gracious mercy of God at work. Using the image of water, Jesus leads the woman step by step to the realization that salvation and eternal life are right there before her eyes. Christ’s gift of "living water" enables her to understand that the offer of friendship with God entails a conversion of life (the woman must turn away from her sinful state); an authentic worship "in Spirit and truth" (what pleases God is an interior spirit of love, obedience and devotion); and a desire to make Christ known to others ("Come and see someone who told me everything I ever did! Could this not be the Messiah?"). In this season of Lent, we too are called to do as the Samaritan woman did: to recognize God’s gift, to put our faith in Jesus our Messiah, and to spread His truth and life. The Lord entered the Samaritan village, and many "came to faith." When the Lord enters our lives, may we also joyfully accept His gift of living water and come to know "that this really is the Savior of the world." Fr. deLadurantaye is director of the Office of Sacred Liturgy, secretary for diocesan religious education and in residence at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington.

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