Studi biblici/Giovanni 4:5-14/John 4:5-14
|Water is the most precious element in the world, more precious even of oil. We are worried because we know that in the near future oil will be less and less available and more expensive. But we should be rather worried about the availability of water. Water, too, is going to be rare and expensive. The Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ used this reality to draw our attention too to another sort of “water” with which we cannot do without: a necessary personal and dynamic relationship with God, source of our life. Our life is often a moral and spiritual wasteland, not because water is lacking, but because something “blocks” its passage, hindering it from “watering” and quenching our life. Jesus came to shed His light on this “blockage” and to unblock it, so that our life may flourish and bear good and satisfying fruit. This is what tells us the text of the Gospels we examine today: John 4:5-14..|
Water, Precious Water
The Problem of Water
We do not often realise it, but water is the most precious element of the world, even more precious than oil. We are worried about the decreasing quantity of oil available for extraction and our increased fuel needs, but we should worry even more about the decreasing availability of water for humankind’s needs. The solution of the problem of water is a question of life or death for many people today.
We take it for granted that when we turn on our water taps in our kitchens or bathrooms, we will get from them clean and fresh water, but we are privileged people and we do not really know for how long it will still be so. Water is essential for human life. When we lack of it, we are heading for big trouble. Differently from other goods of primary importance, like oil, copper, or wheat, we cannot find a substitute for water. Because of the population growth and other factors, the availability of water is decreasing. There are several ways to fight this problem, among which is water saving. There were and there still are wars fought for the sake of control of water sources. Clean water is considered the "oil" of the future and today the intelligent use and exploitation of water sources is essential.
Our world, “The Blue Planet,” is covered by a huge quantity of water, but, unfortunately it is salt water. We cannot use salt water for most of our needs. Salt water impairs the fertility of grounds and encrusts pipes and machinery. Sweet water represents only the 2.5% of the total volume of water on the earth and more that 2/3 of the sweet water is iced in glaciers, especially in the Antarctica. A further 30% is found in reservoirs, much below the ground and only less than 1% is in lakes, rivers or watersheds.
The Biblical Text Today
Water is much in the foreground in the Biblical text we are considering today. Water is considered not only something absolutely essential to human life, but also as a symbol of a reality which can be considered equally essential to all people.
We find this text in Chapter 4 of the Gospel according to John. It tells about Jesus as He meets a Samaritan woman by a well. This story is rather well known, but, as we examine it in detail, it offers more insights and lessons that we have to learn. Today, I shall present some of them. We are going to read only a part of it, from verse 5 to verse 14.
- “So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink." (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?" (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water." The woman said to him, "Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob is? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock." Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life”. (John 4:5-14)
A Unusual Meeting
Jesus meeting a woman at a well and talking with her may seem to us a rather ordinary event, not worthy of special consideration. However, the circumstances in which it took place and how things developed, were, and still are, the occasion of innumerable sermons and studies. Books have been written analysing it under different perspectives. There is indeed, as we shall see, much to learn from this event. Jesus continues to be, for us Christians, the Teacher, par excellence.
1. The circumstances " So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar. “(5) In order to reach Jerusalem, Jesus had to cross the territory of Samaria, where a population had settled which was not on good terms with the Jews. Jesus does not care about this. He was not interested in the questionable quarrels and contentions that for us are often so important. No prejudice hinders him from meeting and caring for people.
“Jacob's well was there” (6 a). Jesus happens to reach the well, which, in ancient times the Patriarch Jacob had provided for his son Joseph. It had been an important gift. Water could guarantee life for the whole family group of Joseph. Palestine was short of water. For this reason, water was much appreciated, especially when it came from pure, fresh springs. Often, villages depended on one well or spring only, placed far from the built-up area. In cities, people dug wells for spring water and watersheds to collect rainwater. Jesus has stopped at that well, but He had nothing to draw water with, neither a bucket or a jar. In fact, the woman that he meets there says to Him, "Sir, you have nothing to draw water with and the well is deep.” (12) “There came a woman of Samaria to draw water.” (7)
Luckily, inspite of the time in which He happens to be there, “It was about the sixth hour”, that is Midday, a woman arrives, carrying a jar on her head. The duty of going to draw water, in those days, was given to women. Usually, they went at wells early in the morning or late in the evening, when it was less hot. Jesus, consequently, asks her for a drink. To give water to someone thirsty was considered both a duty and a virtue. On the contrary, to refuse water was considered wicked and impious. Often, those who unjustly held the power, used the control on water sources as and instrument of domination and often people had to pay for it to them. That which is essential to life, nevertheless, cannot be purchased. God’s Word, in fact, pointing out the spiritual values that only God can give us, and that are essential, says: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Psa 25:1)-
2. The meeting. “Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink." (7 b) In those days a man publicly addressing a woman was considered inappropriate. Generally, it was done only by those who approached prostitutes. Probably this woman was a kind of prostitute. Jesus, nevertheless, does not care about what people might think of him, addressing a foreign woman. As a man, He would have related to her, not in order to exploit her, but to give dignity back to her, to rehabilitate her in the eyes of God and society, to save her from her uncomfortable situation. We might even imagine that she was satisfied with the life she was conducting, or that she thought of it as profitable. In her heart, nevertheless, she knew that her life was not good and satisfying.
Sexuality is a gift from God, one of the most elevated expressions of love between a man and a woman who are committed to each other. One cannot treat sex lightly or worse, exploit it for a profit. Furthermore, a Jew would have never addressed himself to a Samaritan. "How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” This is what the woman replies to Jesus as He asks a drink from her. People, probably, could be recognised from the fashion of their clothes and Jews and Samaritans avoided each other as much as possible. Jesus, nevertheless, has no such prejudice, even if they had some historical reasons.
There is no problem for Him interacting with all sorts of people. Therefore, after having asked a drink for her, he starts a conversation. Doing this, he conferred on the woman dignity and honoured her intelligence. This was very uncommon in those times. Jesus does not care about differences among people. Each person, for Him, had an intrinsic dignity, because each human being carries with him or her image of God. Sex, nationality, social status, culture, religion and not even his or her physical, moral or spiritual condition, for Him is never an obstacle to relationships. The human being needs to be saved from the sin that oppresses, corrupts, and spoils him or her. He or she needs to be saved from sin’s temporal and eternal consequences.
Jesus aims at rescuing for God every human being who is called. Jesus aims at gathering those who God elected to be the recipients of His grace. In fact, “…by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Rev 5:9). One day Jesus said: “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (Joh 10:16). The woman is amazed but in fact rather pleased at Jesus’ approach to her, because someone was not afraid to engage in a conversation with her. Jesus, consequently, takes this opportunity to share with her the message of the Gospel.
3. Living Water. Jesus said to her: "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water." (10)
Jesus words, as often they appear to be, are rather puzzling. They force people to reflect, they are always a challenge for those who receive them. They draw us into the issue. They go beyond the simple everyday interchanges of people on current affairs. They are not just a social convention or an entertainment. They are not light and superficial words. They are “heavy words”, that is, they are loaded with significance that must be the object of reflection and force us to think deeply. As the “heavy water” in Chemistry, Jesus’ Words must be “separated by a distillation process” from normal water. This implies listening attentively.
His words are not words which refers to common things. At first, the woman did not understand what Jesus meant. She did not expect such a talk. It is easy to misunderstand Jesus’ words. It had happened already at other times, as, for example, when He spoke about the need to “eat His own flesh.” These expressions of His did scandalize His listeners and on that occasion even many of His disciples left Him saying: “This is too much!” Jesus, nevertheless, replied: “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (John 6:63). The Gospels show us how often Jesus’ disciples misunderstood His words. They might have been tempted to say: “Can’t you speak more clearly?” No. Jesus’ words are made to be “discriminating.” They imply an attentive hearer, someone who is not distracted, open, without prejudice. There is “a treasure” to discover here, for those who know how to listen to Jesus. One day Jesus said: “Take care then how you hear” Luke 8:18). Jesus’ words are not for those who are mentally lazy, for those who are asleep… “as it is written, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Cor 2:9)
This woman paid special attention to what Jesus said. She reflected on it and His words made her question herself, causing a crisis in her. It is, nevertheless, a healthy crisis. It is the prelude to the complete transformation of her life. We should not be afraid of Jesus putting us into crisis, because He wants to do us only good. Jesus says: “If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.” (Joh 12:47) Certainly, the woman was there for water and she needed water, as we also need water. Water represents from about 55 to 70% of the weight of our bodies. Our blood is a liquid tissue that carries around our bodies the elements which are necessary for our lives. The water were get rid of from our bodies must be reintegrated. We could survive without food for 21 days, but without water only for a few days. We would be glad not to have to care for all this. In fact, that woman says, "Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water." (15)
Jesus did care about human material needs, but in this circumstance, He did not mean that type of water. He came to give us: “living water.” And He said: “…whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (14) What does He mean with this? In the Bible, water is often the image of the grace of God. What is grace? Grace is a synonym of reconciliation, reconciliation with God, of the reestablishment of a good and harmonious relationship with God.
This woman was not satisfied of her life. The water from the well (which was already hard to draw water from) quenched the thirst of her body, but she had a deep “thirst” that nobody could satisfy. She was not satisfied in her own life and she was not satisfied even with her religion. The woman did not know God in a living and personal relationship. She was not in communion with Him and so she did not draw from God the spiritual energies she needed. God, in fact, is the source of life. God is the source of a full, satisfying and eternal life. She never had the experience of the writer of a Psalm who wrote, “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.” (Psa 36:9). The Apostle James wrote,“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.” (Jam 1:17)
Too many obstacles were hindering “the flow” from God to that woman. Maybe they could have been her guilt feelings, or circumstances, secret temptations and interests that absorbed her completely, keeping her far from God. Maybe there was prejudice. Maybe there were hardened religious traditions that were obstructing, not easying her relationship with God. Maybe… What is there in your life that keeps you from God, hindering you from drawing from Him the spiritual resources you need?
That woman, nevertheless, had the extraordinary privilege of meeting the Saviour Jesus Christ. He read her heart as in an open book. He could see “all that she ever did” (4:29). This is embarrassing, is it not? Jesus does it, nevertheless, not to judge and condemn her, but to save her from all that kept her far from God, hindering her drawing from Him what she needed, the running, fresh and clean “water” of Jesus. Jesus, in fact, said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (Joh 10:10)
The moral and spiritual desert that was in that woman’s heart is brought to light by meeting Jesus. She realizes this, with shame. Then she trustfully says to Jesus: "Sir, give me this water.” (Joh 4:15). As a consequence, through Jesus’ love and compassion, that “water” flowed which could make her dry soil to flourish: God’s forgiveness, the possibility of a new life, reconstructed her life on new foundations. From Jesus to her flowed the Spirit, God’s Holy Spirit, that filled and regenerated her. The woman became, consequently, a new person. Those who knew her were amazed at what happened to her. The woman experienced a new birth. The Apostle Paul described this experience with the following words,“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Cor 5:17).
Certainly the woman had to come back every day to the well to draw natural water for her daily needs, but she now had plenty of “spiritual water”, so much that she will even be able to share it with her fellow citizens. This is the reason why Jesus said: “The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (John 4:14) In fact, she could not keep what happened to herself, and ran back home in her village to tell everybody about it: "Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?" And they went out of the town and were coming to him.” (4:29, 30) Later, “…many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world." (4:41,42)
Water, then, is the most precious element in the world, more precious even of oil. We are worried because we know that in the near future oil will be less and less available and more expensive. But we should be rather worried about the availability of water. Water, too, is going to be rare and expensive. This way we must responsibly mobilize ourselves at a personal and social level so that water that guarantees life, be available to everybody, free of charge. The Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ used this reality to draw our attention too to another sort of “water” with which we cannot do without: a necessary personal and dynamic relationship with God, source of our life. Our life is often a moral and spiritual wasteland, not because water is lacking, but because something “blocks” its passage, hindering it from “watering” and quenching our life. Jesus came to shed His light on this “blockage” and to unblock it, so that our life may flourish and bear good and satisfying fruit.
As water does not know any obstacles, Jesus overrides the barriers of nationality, religion, conventions, hostility, and prejudice. He breaks in the life of people like this Samaritan woman. He wanted to clean up in her all that wasted and ruined her life: which was unconfessed sin. He still “invades” uninvited, the life of those to whom God want to give grace and impart new life, reconciling them with God and opening them to the flow of those blessings which, with generosity and compassion, He can and wants impart to them.
The Lord Jesus comes today to meet us like that, as He told that woman: "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water." (Joh 4:10). Let us acknowledge, in front of Him in prayer, the moral and spiritual wasteland of our lives and let us say to Him; "Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water." If we ask this from Him, He will faithfully give us His “water” and it will also become in us something so “overflowing” that we will have of it enough even to share with our “fellow citizens” who will profit from it too, for their own salvation.
Paolo Castellina, March 18, 2014