Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The Samaritan Woman

I have been reflecting on the Samaritan woman at the well, and her encounter with Our Lord; prompted by Sheed, but deeply informed by a meditation on the subject I heard some fifteen years ago, by Fr Dominique of the Community of St John.

The first thing to notice is the place: it was at Jacob's well that the meeting took place: that is, where Jacob gave water to his people and his flock: bear that in mind when meditating on Christ's words. These details are not coincidences!

The second significant detail is that it was in the heat of the day (the sixth hour, that is noon). That means that the woman was an outcast; which is why she was on her own at the well.  The women of the village would come together for their water (and chat, no doubt) in the early, cooler, hours of the day.

So Our Lord touches this, perhaps the most superficial of her wounds, first: he talks to her. It is easy to miss the full significance of that alone; she was a Samaritan, and ever since the Samaritans' offer to help re-build the Temple after the Babylonian captivity was so rudely refused, the Samaritans and the Jews were hostile to each other. Moreover, she was a woman, and Jewish rabbis avoided talking to women in public, even their own wives. And, as we have noted, she was an outcast - a social leper. Moreover, he placed himself in a position of dependency on her will, by asking her to give him a drink.

It is not surprising that she was astonished that he should ask her for a drink. 

His answer surprised her yet further: he offered her living water, that is the life of grace. Here he touched her second level of woundedness: the lack of grace in her soul. And she, just as Nicodemus had done not long before, misunderstood him, by being too literal in her interpretation.

Our Lord persists, despite her protestation that he has no bucket, in his claim to be able to give her water that will well up to eternal life. And in her response, 'give me some of that water,' full of misunderstanding though it be, there is enough of a request of Christ for him to be able to work at a still deeper level.

He addresses the barrier to grace in her soul: she is living in sin, and has clearly forgotten how to love, having got through five husbands before her current man, whom she has not even bothered to marry (we see now why she was an outcast).

This revelation of his knowledge of her, prompts her to reveal the deepest wound of all, that she does not know how to worship God. For the Jews say it must be at Jerusalem, whereas the Samaritans worship on mount Garizim.

He then reveals the true way to worship, in spirit and truth; and then, astonishingly, reveals himself as the Messiah: replacing the temple of the Old Covenant. 

This is the first record of Our Lord revealing himself as Messiah. He had refused to respond to Satan's attempts to draw him on the subject, or to Nathanael's declaration; and throughout his public life, he deliberately avoided the direct statement, and even warned the Apostles to tell nobody that he was the Christ.  It was only under oath to the High Priest that he made so clear a declaration.

And many Samaritans came to believe in him; not just because of the woman's testimony, but because they listened to his word. 

But I am particularly moved by the progression of Our Lord, touching each wound with his healing love until he had reached the deepest wound of all, prompting that saving self-revelation.

Without right worship, we are lost...

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