A scholarly attempt at an interpretation of Sunday's liturgical readings.

The woman at the well

Back in the 1960s, when there was a folk music revival to deal with many world tensions, Peter, Paul, and Mary popularized a song about the woman at the well.  This, of course, was based on the biblical account (John 4:5-42).

I don’t remember the words exactly, but memory tells me that Jesus exemplified ways of dealing with tensions.  Some of these tensions were the fact that the Jews and the Samaritans did not get along, and it was not considered proper that men should initiate discussion with women.  A Jew chatting with a Samaritan woman?  What were the disciples to think?

However, we see evidence of Jesus testing the validity of these “traditions.” The Gospel is aware of the tensions which is manifested in the dialogue between Jesus and the woman at the well, and between Jesus and his disciples.  The first tension, that Jews and Samaritans weren’t supposed to get along, was challenged by Jesus at least a couple of times.  First, in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10: 28-37).  It is the Samaritan who shows compassion and undersanding to the man injured on the road, while the Jewish priest and Levite pass on by,not wanting to be bothered.  Also, when Jesus healed the ten lepers, the only one to come back and give thanks for the miracle was a Samaritan (Lk. 4:17-19).  So, even the Samaritans could be models of good behavior.

The second tension was that between law and people.  Which was the more important?  The woman at the well was a classic example.  Despite her past and present conditions, she was to become a fervent proclaimer of who Jesus was and what Jesus did.  But how did this happen?  First, Jesus takes the initiative by asking her for water.  Second, she is surprised by this “breaking of tradition.”  Thirdly, she cautiously enters the conversation.

The dialogue at the well was about “living water.”  Jesus said, “Whoever drinks the water that I shall give will never thirst.  The water I will give will lead to eternal life.”  Precisely what was the “living water” that Jesus would give leading to eternal life?  For water to be “living” it has to be flowing, that is “constantly on the move.”  Jesus was referring to his life and teaching, which were to be proclaimed constantly by his disciples–“constantly on the move.”

The woman, in spite of her rather lurid past, was open to listen to the voice of Jesus and thus became an effective disciple.  The lesson?  That we accept people whoever they are in spite of what they have done.  People are more important than laws.  Remember what Jesus said: “…The Sabbath was made for humankind and not humankind for the Sabbath.” (Mark  2:27)  This statement is based on a question of priorities.

Our “living water?”  First of all, it is our Baptism which makes us children of God and responsible siblings to one another.  Secondly, our responsibility is founded on the “living water” of Jesus’  life and teachings, namely, justice, compassion, forgiveness, and understanding.























sehis responsibility is based on the “living water” of Jesus’ life and teaching

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