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Fr. Michael's Thoughts on Biblical Imagery: The Samaritan Woman


(Fr Michael Boakye Yeboah: Vice Rector of St Gregory Seminary, Kumasi-Ghana)


            The exchange of gifts is as old as humanity. The breath of life that Adam received from God at creation was given as an unmerited gift. We all remember great moments in life that a precious gift has been given to us to celebrate one anniversary or another; but today’s story of the Samaritan woman can be deemed the gift of gifts. Before we get to that story, let us journey briefly through the first and second readings.

            We should note that nothing is more important for a time of penance and fasting than the realization that God’s grace precedes all our activity and that it was preceding our activity when we were still sinners. In the first reading, the people sinned against God by grumbling and saying all kinds of things against God because they were dying of thirst. God did not use the people’s grumbling against them, but extended his kindness to them. In the desert on a given day, a gift of water can be worth more than bars of gold. God does not look at worthiness or unworthiness of man to extend his kindness. God, who pursues his salvation-plan despite all human resistance, listens to the people’s murmuring (how could one not be kind to someone dying of thirst) and makes water flow from the hardest, driest rock. In the march through wilderness this constitutes an episode; in the New Testament text it becomes the central theme of salvation history.

            In the second reading the episode at the rock serves to buttress the Pauline teaching that we are blessed by God’s grace apart from any merit of our own. Christ did not die for us because we were “good” and “righteous”. Incredibly, he did it “when we were still sinners”, while we were clamoring against God. Who would ever think of dying for an enemy? Only God would. He called us his “friends”, that is, those for whom a man will die in order to prove his love (John 15:13). Yet it is only because of this death that we become friends, when “love is poured out into our hearts” from the wound in Jesus’ side; when, from his spirit’s surrender to death, the Holy Spirit is given. Can you imagine this gift of God to you, a sinner?

            Both readings prepare for the marvelous conversation of Jesus with the Samaritan woman. Her first encounter with grace is Jesus’ request for something to drink. This is a gift that the sinner does not understand, even though she does not deny his request. Jesus was requesting a temporal gift in order to give the Samaritan woman the gift of gifts. The greatest gift one can receive from God, is to return to one’s original identity as created in the very image and likeness of God without any trace of sin; this, I will like to think is the desire of every good Christian. Somewhere deep inside each one of us is a burning desire to finally become the person God created us to be. Yearning to be fully alive, we long to give ourselves as a gift wholeheartedly back to God. Yet despite these stirrings, many of us hesitate and resist, fearing the very thing we desire. While we long to be made pure and whole, we avoid God’s process of purification and healing.

            I wonder if the Samaritan woman felt a similar reluctance before encountering Jesus at Jacob’s well. Do you remember her story? Her brief but powerful encounter with Jesus exposed the secret of her heart and set her free to love again. She came to the well with an insatiable thirst. Her many worldly lovers had left these cravings for love unfulfilled. Neither could she satisfy their consuming appetites. One by one, they had thrown her away like a day-old beverage that had lost its taste. We can only imagine how hopeless and unworthy she felt before her encounter with Jesus. Consider her shock when Jesus approached her, asking her for water.

            According to the custom of the time, a Samaritan woman would not be permitted to speak with a Jewish man. Furthermore, some scholars suggest she came this late in the day to avoid facing the people in her own village. But Jesus was not a bit surprised by their encounter. Coming to the well, Jesus too was thirsty, though he was seeking more than water. He thirsted for this woman, with a deep desire that was totally different from the way the other men desired her. While they sought to consume her for their own pleasure, Jesus longed to satisfy her thirst by pouring himself out on her behalf. He desired to fulfill her, not to use her.

            Can you picture the scene as they greet each other and his gentle gaze meets hers? I envision her immediately avoiding eye contact with Jesus. But then sensing something unusual in his presence, I imagine her looking up, being drawn into Jesus’ penetrating gaze. Piercing her shame and reaching to the depths of her soul with his words, he sees her and speak to her heart as no one has ever done before now. His searing love purifies her heart, burning away the shame-based lies that have tarnished her self-respect. Her previously unreachable well, the well of her soul, is now overflowing with living water. Running into the village, she longs to offer a refreshing drink to everyone she meets. She is radically transformed by her encounter with Jesus. Seeing her own dignity for the first time, she now desires to give herself completely to God. She wants to tell everyone about this man who “knew everything” about her. She invites all of us to come and meet him for ourselves. Will you give yourself to Jesus and in return receive Him who is the living water?

            Jesus brought healing to the Samaritan woman with majestic simplicity. He invited her into an encounter with himself; he revealed her brokenness; and he gave her the finest medicine – his love and truth – to heal her wounds. Jesus often heals each of us in the same simple way. Are you ready to receive this gift of gifts?


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