Posted by: fvbcdm | March 22, 2014

Feast of Saint Nicolas Owen (22 March 2014)

In 1983, I made my first trip with my travel group to the Holy Land. We were under the management of a Palestinian tour group and therefore followed a somewhat different itinerary than we did some years later with a Jewish tour agency.

One of the places we visited was the city of Nablus in Samaria, just outside of which there is the well at which Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman. That incident is recounted in the gospel of this Sunday’s Mass; it comes from the gospel according to Saint John, chapter 5. We must always bear in mind that Saint John reported far fewer events in the life of Jesus than did the other three evangelists, but he recounted them in much greater detail and with very deep theological insight.

It is from this passage of the gospel that we get the beautiful notion of the “living water” that Christ comes to bring us and with which our spiritual life is meant to flourish. It is midday. Jesus and the apostles have been traveling all through the hot, dry morning. They are thirsty and crave a drink. The apostles leave our Lord at the local well in the village of Sychar. Archaelogical research reveals that that is the only well ever to have been dug in that area, so it is certainly the one at which Jesus sat and spoke to the woman who came to draw water. It is one of the best-authenticated relics of Our Lord to be found in the Holy Land. A Samaritan woman comes to the well with her bucket to draw water. In those days, the buckets were not the relatively light aluminum buckets with which we are familiar today. They were usually made of earthenware, like our flowerpots. Even when empty, they were heavy. And when filled with a gallon or two of water, they were much heavier. It was the endless chore of the ordinary women of the time to make countless trips from their homes to the local well to obtain water for their cooking, washing of themselves and their families, the laundry, the watering of any animals they might have, and the irrigation of a garden or a vine or any other vegetation in their possession. The obtaining of water was probably the most onerous task of the typical Palestinian woman who did not have servants, and the one she would have most wanted to get rid of.

There are two reasons why the Samaritan woman is surprised when Jesus, sitting on the rim of the well, asks her for a drink. First, they are strangers— man and woman. Ordinarily they would not have spoken for that reason. Then, he is a Jew and she a Samaritan, an offshoot of the Jews who followed a slightly different religious tradition. The Jews and Samaritans were on very bad terms and avoided each other whenever possible. Yet Jesus asks her, “Give me a drink.” He had neither bucket nor cup, so he would have had to use her Samaritan utensils, which was also forbidden by common usage to the Jews. When she registers surprise that this young Jewish man speaks to her and is willing to use her utensils, he answers her, “If you knew who I am, you would ask me and I would give you living water.” Living water meant flowing water, as in a brook or spring, as opposed to the stagnant water in a deep well. The conversation goes on and Our Lord says, “Whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternal life.”

There isn’t time here to explore this idea thoroughly. I simply ask you to meditate upon this simple and beautiful concept of a thirsty man or woman being offered a drink of cool, fresh, delicious, pure spring water which produces in the thirsty person not just the temporary slaking of thirst, but a constant spring bubbling up and never running dry. The Samaritan woman is thrilled by this idea. We, too, should be thrilled by it, especially since Our Lord is referring to our spiritual life and not merely our bodily thirst. Think and pray about this.  Thank you for seeking God’s truth, God Bless you.  Father Victor Brown, O.P.

Note:  This message was composed some years ago.

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